Trends in Alternative Work Arrangements
Daryl Johnson, TkMC, (formerly Turnkey Management Consulting)
Gail Evans, The Wynford Group
Featured In HR Professional Magazine
As in other areas of Human Resource Management, flexibility has increasingly become
an important factor in determining effective work arrangements that suit the needs
of specific employment sectors and serve as attraction and retention strategies
for employers. To accommodate employee needs, increasing numbers of organizations
have implemented the following alternative work arrangement strategies:
- Compressed Work Weeks
The following chart displays trends in these practices over the last 4 years in
Demographically driven changes are affecting workplaces, in particular, many Baby
Boomers are approaching retirement age. Some of the unique expectations for retirement
that will emerge include many Boomers remaining in the workforce during their retirement
years, whether it be to start their own business, work full-time at a new job/career,
or work part-time/flex-time hours for the sake of interest and enjoyment. Boomers
will experience retirement dramatically different from a generation ago, as evidenced
by fewer Boomers moving to new geographic locations, their tendency to have a lesser
concern about making ends meet after retirement, and expectations of minimal disruption
to their current lifestyle.
Employee groups’ aged 45 and older account for close to 35% of the working population.
Specifically, over the next decade a substantial number will be eligible for retirement
leaving insufficient numbers of younger workers to fill these vacancies. To add
to this problem, there are specific skills and knowledge held by some of these “senior
employees” that are not easily or quickly replicated. For example, in the energy
sector in Alberta, there has been an ongoing shortage of experienced Reservoir and
Exploitation Engineers, which has been compounded by a reduction in emphasis on
in-house training & development for these specific skills.
In response to these conditions, there are several emerging strategies that are
- Phased-in Retirement
- Flex Strategies
1. Phased-in Retirement
From a workforce talent management perspective, the use of this strategy is beneficial
to both employers and employees for the following reasons:
- Increased flexibility for employers in managing peak work periods, temporary and
- Continuing access to key skills & knowledge.
- Flexibility in supporting lifestyle considerations and easing into retirement activities
for senior employees.
This strategy also has some implications for pensions and benefits, which suggest
that employers examine of the potential use of different pension plan strategies
to provide the most useful benefits to employees, yet realize cost-effective results
for employers. This also supports the use of flexible total compensation strategies.
For example, a Calgary-based energy producer is developing a Flexible Total Compensation
Plan which includes cafeteria choices for cash, benefits, retirement, vacation etc.
In the present knowledge economy, many industries are increasingly dependent upon
continuous learning and the development of specific skills and competencies. Combined
with the projected skill shortages and demographic challenges, mentoring is viewed
as an effective method of key knowledge transfer. This can be accomplished by:
- In knowledge-based organizations senior employees are increasingly providing on
going mentoring and coaching for developing employees, so that they can gain the
industry or company specific knowledge.
- For example: Research & Development companies use senior technical gurus to pass
on critical knowledge to developing employees. Technology solutions companies such
as LGS have effectively employed career coaches for several years.
- External executive coaches are becoming increasingly common for senior management
employees, and can provide a different and objective perspective.
- External mentor/consultants can also provide a broad range of industry knowledge
and experience to more junior employees to support the development of professional
skills and can almost be viewed as an “apprenticeship” strategy.
- Professional Associations and academic institutions can also play a mentorship role.
For example. The Human Resource Association of Calgary and the University of Alberta
and Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton have had a Mentorship or Student Mentorship
programs for several years where senior HR practitioners volunteer to mentor developing
3. Flex Strategies
The use of the “portable office” where laptop computers, PDA’s, email and other
business tools can be plugged in at home, client site or the cottage as easily as
the office has increased the flexibility of employees to work in many different
environments without losing significant productivity.
Office Hotels: An increasing number of professional services firms have offices
that employees can book for the time they need when they are in a particular location.
IBM is a good example of the use of this strategy.
As employees work more independently to produce results, the use of flexible hours
has become more common, which allows employees to plan their own work time and work
balance. For example, Westjet has recently implemented flextime for some groups
of employees, which identifies a specific number of hours of work per week, with
the employee determining the scheduling of these hours, with the intention of providing
greater work/life balance.
In conclusion there is increasing pressure on employers to develop and use alternative
work strategies that fit their particular business and employee needs, as well as
making the most effective use of their Human Capital. A key component of success
appears to be providing the greatest amount of work flexibility that their organizations