Fractional Employment

“You can’t have both.” “You’re either in, or you’re out.” “Are you going to let mommyhood derail your career?” Business women who are considering s…

When it comes to family-work balance, why do we think the only option is a whole number approach? Employers and employees can both benefit from greater flexibility.

“You can’t have both.” “You’re either in, or you’re out.” “Are you going to let mommyhood derail your career?” Business women who are considering starting a family or who have a family have heard those words—and plenty like them—before.

It’s also often been presumed that business men with families will make the “right” decision (which reads: Your place is climbing the career ladder, not staying home changing diapers), and so they don’t need to sweat the conundrum of making that discomforting either/or choice. Yet this presumption might get challenged more and more, since Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg announced his paternity leave at the end of last year.

But why does a business woman or a business man in this day and age need to make a choice between family and work? Aren’t there acceptable gradations on the scale of family-work balance that are fully acceptable at certain times in our lives?

You bet there are—plenty of them—with many testimonials to support the concept. It’s just that American workers have been traditionally scared to talk about how see-sawing, sometimes more career, sometimes more family, functions perfectly well at different points in an individual’s life.

In a recent article in The New York Times, “Helping Moms Lean In, but Not Too Far,” Katherine Rosman writes about The Second Shift, a small enterprise run by two moms. The two founders were perplexed that so many capable, educated, and experienced business women who were temporarily out of the workforce for family reasons (because they were given the impression they couldn’t keep their toes in both the work life and home life waters) were yearning for some flexibility in order to get back into the game. Sure, they may not be able to swing the traditional 9-to-5 gig, but that didn’t mean their skills and expertise wouldn’t be valued by companies that could bend a little. The article’s author reports that The Second Shift is successfully matching moms to challenging business opportunities, whether part time, project based, or other.

More and more, companies are searching for ways to save dollars—by experimenting with reduced hours or asking employees to move laterally. This model, a shift from the corporate ladder to the career-path route, was espoused by Cathy Benko, vice chairman and managing partner of the accounting giant, Deloitte. She called her model the lattice. At Deloitte, each employee’s lattice is nailed together during twice-a-year evaluations focused not just on career targets but also on larger life goals. The company’s data from 2008 suggest that about 10 percent of employees choose to “dial up” or “dial down” at any given time.

If a company embraces such a program, it does more than keep talented women in the workforce. It benefits the expertise and diversity of its workforce: millennials who demand better work-life balance, young parents—men and women—who need time to share child-care duties, and Baby Boomers who look to ease toward retirement.

Fractionality’s time has come.

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