Retail giant Amazon.com is trying a new employment method. The company announced in 2016 that it has created entire teams of employees who have part-time, flexible schedules. Even the manager heading the teams works part-time. How does this improve Amazon's profits? Given the company's focus on instant metrics, the results of Jeff Bezos's latest experiment could change the way other firms view this type of work arrangement.
Flexible schedules can have an immediate impact for two worker demographics. People with small children might find this part-time work arrangement appealing because they may want more time with their children. Demands on an employee's work-life balance become less of a struggle with part-time, flexible work.
Employees who live in lower-income areas may also like flexible schedules. People who have to catch the bus or train to get to the office can afford to show up a little later and stay a little later without worrying about being fired for excessive tardiness. Part-time, flexible work might also help employees who have more than one job. The overall goal of the Amazon program is to increase workplace diversity.
There might be some unforeseen consequences of the Amazon part-time program. Some employees may slack off and not be as productive. Others might choose to take their work home with them and work full-time hours while having part-time compensation. Having entire teams comprised of just part-time workers might make it harder to compare productivity against full-time teams.
What about promotions? It's difficult to measure how part-time employees with flexible schedules compete against other workers for promotions. Amazon must learn to measure its metrics carefully before proceeding with this plan on a permanent basis. While the retailer might see more women and more lower-income workers in its ranks, other workers may look at this part-time, flexible arrangement negatively, as a weakness rather than a strength.
Like flexible schedules at other firms, Amazon must measure its return on investment carefully. What sets its program above other companies is that its part-time workers get just as much benefits as full-time employees. That means health insurance, stock options, time off and family leave. Can Amazon afford to give its part-time employees as many benefits as the full-timers?
Like Colgate-Palmolive, Amazon should set clear priorities and expectations with a part-time, flexible program. There should be clear measures of performance, productivity and employee engagement. The more Amazon collects data on its part-time program, the more it can make tweaks to ensure success. Many large firms try to manage large teams of workers on flexible arrangements, but they fail to do so. This is because only 3 percent of firms that have flexible work programs attempt to measure how said setup benefits their business.
Amazon's goal of increasing workplace diversity comes to fruition depending on how the entire company reacts as a whole. Nothing happens in a vacuum, so human resources must measure the success or failure of this program as thoroughly as possible.
More and more companies recognize that flexible schedules and diversity at the office are great tools for improving morale, fostering innovation and earning more profits. What is lacking in these companies that embrace such philosophy is a clear-cut method of measuring the success of their flexible programs.
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