Wednesday, November 25, 2020

What If All Jobs Were Potentially Part-time?

Some jobs in business and law seem to require exceptionally long hours and being perpetually on-call. Indeed, one main reason for the remaining wage gap between college-educated it's mostly men who end up in these jobs, while professional women are more likely to end up in careers where the work is full-time or part-time, but not extreme overtime (for discussion, see here and here). This pattern raises an obvious question: is it really so impossible to divide up these extreme overtime jobs into more than one job, like two part-time or even two full-time (but only full-time) jobs?  

Zurich Insurance UK gave it a try: specifically, the company shifted to a policy in which all jobs in the firm, right up to the top of the C-suite, were advertised within the firm as potentially part-time. The UK government has something called the Government Equalities Office which contains within it a  Behavioural Insights Team. Thus, the results of the study "Changing the default: a field trial with Zurich Insurance to advertise all jobs as part-time" was carried out by Rony Hacohen, Shoshana Davidson, Vivek Roy-Chowdhury, Daniel Bogiatzis Gibbons, Hannah Burd and Tiina Likki - the Behavioural Insights Team (September 2020). Here's a description: 
A comprehensive review of Zurich’s internal HR data on recruitment, progression and promotions revealed differences in outcomes between staff who worked full-time and those who worked part-time. The vast majority of part-time workers were women. Findings showed that, relative to full-time employees, part-time employees were 35% less likely to apply for promotions, received raises that were 1.1% lower, and received lower scores on performance and potential to progress metrics. ...

Our interviews also suggested that there was some stigma around working part-time, related to perceptions of commitment of part-time employees, and employees feared being judged for seeking to reduce their working hours. In addition, managers and employees saw part-time work as a privilege, rather than a right.

To address these concerns, we developed an intervention to normalise part-time work at Zurich, by opening all new positions to part-time work by default. The intervention was live for 12 months. ... The intervention aimed to normalise part-time work across all levels of the organisation. To achieve this, new positions at Zurich were advertised as open to part-time patterns or job-shares by default, unless the hiring manager provided a business case for why that was not possible. The intervention went live in March 2019 on Zurich’s hiring platform.

It was not possible to run the intervention as a randomised controlled trial (RCT). Therefore, we conducted a before-after analysis comparing the data from the pre-intervention period (before March 2019) with the intervention period (March 2019 - February 2020).
What happened next? 
  • A significant increase of 16.4% in the overall proportion of female applicants (+6 percentage points from the baseline of 36.4% to 42.4%), as well as the proportion of applicants who did not say they were male (+3 percentage points).
  • A significant increase of 19.3% in the proportion of female applicants to senior roles (+6 percentage points from the baseline of 31.1% to 37.1%).
  • A significant increase of 8% in the number of part-time employees reporting that they feel they ‘belong’ at Zurich (+0.38 percentage points). ...
  • There was a non-significant increase in the proportion of promotions that went to women - from 50.2% in the pre-period to 56.1% in the post-period (+5.9 percentage points).
The researchers are careful to surround this finding with appropriate caveats, but the main thrust is clear enough. Many employers expect their top employees to work extreme overtime for extreme pay. But in doing so, they end up with a large number of high-skill workers doing jobs that are below their capabilities, because those workers--often women--prefer a different work-life balance. There are some obvious benefits to an employer who replaces a worker putting in 150% of a normal work-week with two workers each doing 75% a normal week or three workers each doing 50% of a normal week. The firm can make better use of some high-skilled talent. It would have better "bench strength," so it wouldn't run the risk of one key employee getting sick or leaving the firm. If there was a short-term need for either more or less work, it could be somewhat easier to accommodate. Given the extremely high pay for the 150% workers, the combined pay for a team of part-timers could probably be less. 

One side-effect of the COVIS pandemic has been a huge rise in telecommuting, and thus in a different approach to coordinating the efforts of teams and of the workplace as a whole. In such settings, the idea that the leaders of an organization need to be the ones who physically arrive the earliest and depart the latest no longer holds true. Among the professional women I know--those with many years of business and consulting experience, often with high levels of education and MBA degrees--it's fairly common to hear of a wish for employers that would promote into jobs and roles that could be more explicitly shared by workers who don't need to commit to extreme overtime, or even to regular full-time, at least not all the time.  Thus, I find myself wondering if the Zurich Insurance experiment, even though it took place before the pandemic hit, may be a harbinger of workplace changes to come.