Archive for February, 2009

Fast Company: Flexible Downsizing–A Matter of Global Stability, Not Just an Interesting “Option”

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When I started blogging about flexibility as an alternative to layoffs, my primary focus was to encourage companies to “consider” how reduced schedules, job sharing, shifting hours, sabbaticals/furloughs, and project-based employment could lower labor costs while retaining valuable talent and minimizing job cuts. 

I saw flexible downsizing as a powerful “option.”  But as the rate of layoffs multiplied exponentially in January, my sense of urgency began to rise.  Then I read, “Unemployment Surges Around the World, Threatening Stability” by Nelson D. Schwartz in the New York Times, and “The Axis of Upheaval,” by Niall Ferguson in Foreign Policy.  I now believe using workplace flexibility to manage costs (not just labor) and minimize layoffs is critical to global stability and security, not just an “option” to “consider.”

According to Schwartz, the rate of job cuts domestically and internationally is accelerating to levels not seen since the Depression, “Worldwide job losses from the recession that started in the United States in December, 2007 could hit a staggering 50 million by the end of 2009, according to the International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency.  The slowdown has already claimed 3.6 million American jobs.”  France’s employment minister, Laurent Wauquiez, explained, “This is the worst we’ve had since 1929.  The thing that is new is that it is global, and we are always talking about that.  It is in every country, and it makes the whole difference.”  The International Monetary Fund “expects that by the end of the year, global economic growth will reach its lowest point since the Depression.”  (Click here for more)

Fast Company: “Downsizing Flexibility Champions”—Alternatives to Layoffs Honor Roll

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When I recently co-presented on the “Using Workplace Flexibility as Part of a Downsizing Strategy” Flex Options teleconference for the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau (transcript now available here), I announced that I was going to start a list honoring organizations that used workplace flexibility to manage costs and minimize layoffs. 

The goal is to inspire other leaders to work with their employees and create innovative strategies to flexibly manage through this crisis beyond the knee-jerk “cut” of mass layoffs. 

Here’s a perfect example of how opening the dialogue with employees can result in creative solutions to reduce costs and avoid job cuts.  A colleague sits on the board of a not-for-profit.  During their last meeting, it was decided that the organization needed to make dramatic cost reductions.  Immediately, the director said, “I’m going to have to layoff people, but before I do that let me ask everyone if they have any other ideas.”  To her surprise, seven of the 20 staff members offered to reduce their schedule and pay.  And with that, she was able to avoid the layoffs she feared she was going to have to make. 

Whether it’s reducing pay and schedules, telecommuting to save real estate costs, adding unpaid vacation days to the calendar, job sharing, having former employees consult on a project-basis or offering sabbaticals/furloughs, there are many creative applications of flexibility as part of a downsizing strategy.  And it’s not just an “option to consider,” but a matter of global stability

The List – The Downsizing Flexibility Champions… (Click here for more)

Sun-Times Column by BDO CEO and WLF–Work Life Flex Reduces Costs & Keeps Jobs

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It’s not often we read about CEOs discussing the benefits of work life flexibility, so the Work+Life Fit team was quite excited when the CEO of BDO Seidman LLP, one of our clients, agreed to co-author a column with us on the topic.  The Chicago Sun-Times recently published the following commentary in their Other Views column.  The column (below) makes the point that work life flexibility is a way to manage that can control costs in many areas and limit layoffs.  We hope more CEOs and other top executives will soon learn that work life flexibility is not just an employee perk or a band-aid to avoid layoffs, but a broader business model that can reduce costs multiple areas while helping businesses grow. 

Workplace flexibility lets firms keep talent, reduce costs

Jack Weisbaum and Cali Williams Yost; Special to The Chicago Sun-Times

15 January 2009 

After the 2001 recession, employers continued to cut jobs until almost 2003. With current record-level layoff rates, Chicago area businesses can’t afford to continue the same employment models used during past economic downturns. Fortunately just before this recession, a few smart businesses used workplace flexibility for purposes broader than a short-sighted alternative to layoffs. They redefined the way they staff, work and run their businesses.

BDO Seidman, a Chicago-based accounting and consulting business, and Work+Life Fit Inc. surveyed 100 chief financial officers at the country’s largest organizations and found nearly a third offered project-based contract work, reduced hours with full benefits, and unpaid sabbaticals with full benefits, as part of their work force-reduction strategies. The money spent to attract and train was not lost. Employees retained some ability to pay for mortgages and credit card bills and kept health care benefits.

With creative work force flexibility, businesses can do more than just cut labor costs. 

At BDO Seidman, we use workplace flexibility to help manage workloads through up and down business cycles. Some colleagues work 60 hours in tax season and 20 hours in slower times. We use telecommuting to do more than ease Chicago commutes and gas prices. We entered and grew faster in new markets such as Austin, Nashville and Phoenix with teams who worked from home and client offices.

Studies show telecommuting, flexible scheduling, compressed work weeks and job sharing allow businesses to reduce real estate, operations and equipment costs by as much as 40 percent. Such cuts lead to reduced travel, energy usage, emissions and overall environmental footprints. 

As the economy deteriorates, problems with the health care system become more acute. Yet, research indicates flexible workplaces positively impact health care savings. A Wake Forest University study found workers with an increase in flexibility had fewer absences related to illness and were less likely to say health problems affected their jobs. 

Staffing cuts continue to shape the corporate mentality. Chicago area organizations need to explore workplace flexibility not just as a knee-jerk tactic to cut labor costs, but as a broader cost-cutting and business growth strategy to retain valued professionals, meet customer demands and work smarter in a resource-challenged, global business environment.

Jack Weisbaum is chief executive officer of BDO Seidman, LLP. Cali Williams Yost is chief executive officer of Work+Life Fit, Inc.

What do you think?  Is the severity of the recession making leaders open to new, more innovative ways of operating?  Or are they reverting back to old patterns?

Join me! 2/12 2-3pm FREE U.S. Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau “Flexible Downsizing” Teleconference

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Using Workplace Flexibility as Part of a
Downsizing Strategy
…What are companies doing? What’s working?
What are the challenges to this approach?

February 12, 2009
2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. EST
Free Flex-Options Teleconference
Hosted by the U.S. Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau

In late December, The New York Times published an article, “More Companies Are Cutting Labor Costs Without Layoffs,” that highlighted the use of flexibility as an alternative to layoffs. It’s not a new concept – offering workplace flexibility options to limit or sidestep layoffs – yet this go-around the process seems more strategic. Join us on this teleconference to learn more! 

Cali Williams Yost, CEO and Founder of Work+Life Fit, Inc. (, will kick off our discussion. Cali is also an expert blogger for Fast Company and has devoted her most recent weekly blogs to the topic of “flexible downsizing.”

Also joining our teleconference is Betty Purkey, recently retired manager of work-life strategies at Texas Instruments. This year, Betty decided to take a voluntary retirement package from her company. She brings a wealth of personal and human resources professional experience to our discussion. 

You’ll have an opportunity to join the discussion, ask questions, share best practices, and learn from other participants from across the nation.

To register for this teleconference:
or Call 202-693-6710.
Once registered, we will send you the toll-free
call-in number and passcode.
For more information about the Flex-Options project, please contact:
Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor, 202-693-6710,



Steelers Head Coach–Dad, and Work+Life “Fit” Advocate

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Since I wrote, “Will President Obama Make It Cool for Fathers to be Part of the Work+Life Fit Conversation?” I’ve been aware of how loudly and proudly more men seem to be wearing their fatherhood.   President Obama recently discussed how much he enjoys seeing his kids with his new “home office” on the Today Show (hat tip: Kate Lister, Undress4Success).  But nothing prepared me for Pittsburgh steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin’s OpEd in last week’s USA Today entitled, “Fatherhood comes first, then the game.”  The weekend before the big game, the Steelers’ coach wasn’t commenting on “winning at all costs.”  No. He chose this moment to talk about fatherhood. 

Tomlin explains how important his stepfather’s involvement was in making him the man who will lead the Steelers in the Super Bowl this year.  He talks about how, “In my own home, that means I make my wife and our children—Dino, Mason and Harlyn Quinn—my No. 1 priority.” 

Then he says…”I also try to make my life fit into theirs.”  That’s right, Coach Mike Tomlin is all about work+life “fit!”  He continues, “When I can, I drive them to school, coach their sports teams and go over their homework.  If they are proud of me for coaching the Steelers, that’s great, but I want them to know that my primary purpose in life is to be their dad.”  The reality is that he has a very big job that requires a lot of travel for a good part of the year.  But he understands that it’s the small things—homework help, a ride to school—that make a big difference, and he works hard to “fit” them in.

And it isn’t just Coach Tomlin’s OpEd.  I see signs of work+life fit change for fathers everywhere.  For example, you are now able to follow me on Twitter   ( which is basically an in-the-moment, micro-blogging platform.  Six of the men who are following me on Twitter proudly identify themselves within their otherwise work-oriented Twitter bios as “fathers.” Two even have their children with them in the bio pictures.  What a wonderful sign of the times! 

So as I watched the Steelers win the Super Bowl, I sent out a shout to head coach Mike Tomlin for bringing home the win for Pennsylvania (I may be a Jersey girl in location, but I’m a Pennsylvania-girl at heart), but also for encouraging fathers to find the work+life “fit” that lets them be the fathers they want to be.  And I look forward to more Twitter “father” followers!   

What do you think?  Do you see signs that fathers are becoming a more visible part of the work+life fit conversation?

Fast Company: It’s Not Just the Market…Other Roadblocks to Flexible Downsizing

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Last week I discussed the ways in which market pressures reward layoffs, discouraging more creative approaches to corporate downsizing.  I believe that market pressure is a main motivation behind the immediate jump to “layoffs,” which ignores options like reduced schedules, job sharing and sabbaticals.  But there are other less obvious influences that have been brought to my attention this past week.

“It’s too late.  We’ve already laid people off, and we may need to do more layoffs in the future.” 

It’s never too late to incorporate work life flexibility into your downsizing strategy.  I’m always fascinated by the “all or nothing” mentality individuals bring to their personal work+life choices.  But I’m beginning to see this same thinking in organizations as they consider downsizing.  Remember, there’s historical precedence from the early 80’s for using flexibility to manage labor costs.  It’s not a choice between flexible downsizing OR layoffs.  There’s room in your downsizing strategy for both options—they’re not mutually-exclusive.  And an organization gets work+life bonus points for including all the options at their disposal.

“Our systems are incompatible with multiple employment scenarios.” 

In other words, “It’s too difficult and too expensive for our systems to account for and track some people working a reduced schedule, while other people share jobs, take sabbaticals, or become project-based employees.  So, because our systems can’t handle it, it’s easier to lay people off.”  I know this makes sense to the people who have to deal with the system, but there’s a pretty clear cost/benefit rationale (as described here) for trying to figure it out.

“But we have to do something!  And figuring out all of those different scenarios takes too long.”   (Click here for more)