Of course there's nothing new in the idea of flexible working, discussed in my last post in connection with the introduction of flexible holiday entitlement by Ernst & Young.
"Notions of 'flexitime' have been around for decades, but almost always with a tit-for-tat approach. Workers could put in a ten-hour day for two weeks in
return for Fridays off. They could come in at 5a.m. and leave earlier than their colleagues, as long as they put in eight hours each day. But for many people, there's virtually no end to the workday. The same Intranets, web access, modems, e-mail, pagers, cellular phones, and laptops that have ended the weekend have also eliminated the nine-to-five workday."
"People question whether this doesn't take the joy out of the weekend. It could, surely, but I've transported joy to every weeekday. I go to a movie on a grey afternoon, or for a hike in the hills early on a Wednesday."
Flexibility can even extend beyond this, using Semco's Retire-A-Little programme to trade time off now with extra time after the normal retirement age.
One thing I find surprising, particularly given Semler's desire to make work feel more fulfilling, is his reticence to go beyond his admittedly innovative approaches to flexible working and work-life balance to further engage Semco's workforce. Apart from ensuring people can live the 'seven day weekend', Semler seems to have low expectations for the role work can play in someone's life.
"Another source of stress and disappointment is the expectation that the workplace is an extended family. People want their jobs to provide a sense of belonging, to feel they're taken care of, to bond with colleagues. But they're looking for characteristics the company can't supply. they should keep the company role in perspective. The fact is, you don't have to like people to work with them."