'It's not at the peril of your business, it's commercially smart'
During her post-doctoral research, Dr Ellen Joan Nelson interviewed more than 500 parents. The data she garnered uncovered what she says is the root cause of why parents have so many challenges: a fundamental misalignment between work and school hours.
Further investigations uncovered the 40-hour week format was first introduced 100 years ago when women were a tiny part of the workforce so there was no need to account for their primary caregiver duties.
“Nine to five is literally based on the assumption that the worker is not also the person responsible for caring for children. But of course, that fundamentally does not reflect the demographics of our workforce today,” said Nelson.
Nelson’s new mission was clear: how do we change the way we work so we’ve got better alignment between the schedules of adults and children?
No stranger to giant tasks, Nelson’s previous work has included fundamentally changing the way the NZ military treats woman and she was recently part of a volunteer team that included Chris Parsons and Martin Dransfield; the trio successfully evacuated 563 people from Afghanistan, a task that earned Nelson the moniker, ‘Afghan Advocate’.
Nelson’s newest project, #workschoolhours sees her partnering with businesses to implement the #workschoolhours format throughout their workforce. The format means that employees ‘work school hours’, dropping total worktime to 32 hours a week, and they receive full pay if they maintain current levels of output.
“If we focus on output, as opposed to the hours someone spends at a desk, the productivity rate goes up so much, and it's good for the business,” said Nelson. “My belief is that #workschoolhours is commercially smart,” she continued. “I'm not saying parents have it tough, please make it better at the expense of your profits. No. I’m saying, doing it is commercially smart.”
Nelson’s four commercially smart reasons for implementing #workschoolhours:
- Increases productivity – people are working to finish tasks instead of to fill hours;
- Increases wellbeing – people have more personal time or time with family;
- Improves ability to attract and retain top staff – job seekers will actively seek out companies that offer options that work with childcare;
- Increases the representation of women in the workforce – females, our primary caregivers, will be able to participate in the workforce and spend time with their children.
Like most things that go through the HR department, Nelson explained that it’s not a cookie-cutter process and each business is different. Nelson’s process starts with a strategy session with the leadership team to understand how the organisation operates.
Then her attention turns to how the business can achieve the same level of output in less hours. “The people who are most qualified to answer that question are the team,” said Nelson who walks them through that process.
Once the data is gathered, gradual improvements are implemented based on the insights. That could be anything from, not scheduling in-house meetings or co-working periods outside of school hours to fully rewriting your KPIs to better reflect the outputs you want employees to deliver.
“Once that is in place it’s actually very easy to forget about the hours, it’s no longer how many hours a person sits at a desk, it’s about did they deliver those outputs that we wanted them to?” said Nelson. “Then building gradually on those improvements until you get to a point where you can continue it sustainably into the future.”
“I'm passionate about this and I want to make the world better for individuals. I know that organisations don't give a crap about it unless it's commercially smart and that's the bit that gets me excited, this is not at the peril of your business, it's commercially smart.