We are all seeking the right balance between our work and personal life. We want to build a life that is sustainable and makes us happy. Unfortunately, we are often trapped in an inflexible work environment that makes it hard to craft that sustainable career of your dreams. We’ve talked about 4-day workweeks before but what about part-time work in a full-time environment? Many companies are very far from implementing a 4-day workweek across the board. However, flexible work arrangements may still be possible! Today, we share some best practices in creating sustainable careers.

Sustainable Careers Through Reduced-Load Work

Sustainable careers can be crafted in many ways but today we are focusing on reduced-load work. So, what is reduced-load work? It is when a full-time job is redesigned with fewer hours and lower workload while taking a pay cut. It is a customized arrangement that allows employees to continue progressing in their careers even though they are not full-time. Imagine how many people can benefit from this! Maybe you have several young children and can’t afford childcare every day of the week. Maybe you are taking care of a sick or elderly family member. Or maybe you are coping with a mental or physical health issue of your own.

To create reduced-load work, employees and leaders work together to rethink jobs. Organizations do this in many ways. For example, managers can reduce the number of projects or clients assigned to employees with a reduced-load work arrangement. Sometimes, managers redistribute work to other team members.

Another popular approach is job sharing. One of our fabulous podcast interviewees is in a job share arrangement. Basically, in a job share, two people are sharing one job. Often, both people work 3 days a week where they overlap 1 day. One more approach is cross-training. With cross-training, managers train other team members to back each other up. Team members learn to back-up everyone, ideally. Thus, reduced-load work employees have coverage when they are out but they can also cover others.

Job sharing can be a great way to create a sustainable career!

There are many ways to reduce workload for employees that need to scale back hours. Reduced-load work can help employees achieve work-life balance while continuing to work in traditionally full-time careers. It’s a great alternative to keep employees that need more time away from work in the workforce. These employees can build sustainable careers that work for their circumstances.

The 3 Stages to Reduced-Load Work

Recent research highlights 3 different stages of creating reduced-load work for sustainable careers. Employees, managers, and organizations all have key responsibilities in all 3 stages to ensure this type of work will be effective.

Stage 1: Exploration

The first step to creating reduced-load work is exploring it as an option. Employees and managers need to be open to the conversation about creating a customized approach to work. Once that very real hurdle is overcome, employees and managers need to agree that the job can be adjusted for reduced-load work and how it can be redesigned.

In addition to employees and managers working well together, HR and leadership need to support the movement towards reduced-load work. The organization must be open to reduced-load work and provide policies supporting it. Additionally, HR needs a flexible costing approach that focuses on labor hours/time versus headcount. This will allow people to cut back hours in traditionally full-time jobs.

Once employees, managers, HR, and leaders are all on the same page, the organization can move to Stage 2.

Stage 2: Implementation

The second stage is all about implementation. In other words, how do you get this reduced-load work up and running?

Employees and managers need to work together to tweak the job and communicate effectively. As the job is being redesigned, being open and transparent about any issues can make the implementation smoother. In addition, employees and managers also need to clearly set expectations with coworkers and customers.

Keeping lines of communication open with your manager is critical in successfully redesigning your job.

Organizational changes need to take place during this stage. Leaders need to build momentum by encouraging other groups to consider reduced-load work. Also, leaders need to emphasize business outcomes over ‘face-time’ in the office. We know leaders influence culture and the way others respond to various events and situations at work. Thus, it is critical that they show support for reduced-load work for successful implementation. It will help others feel like they can create a flexible work schedule for themselves. At a minimum, it’ll make coworkers value their team members that are on a reduced schedule.

Stage 3: Embedding

Finally, the last stage is embedding reduced-load work within the organization. Employees and managers need to keep communication lines open to troubleshoot any future issues that may arise. They also need to be champions of reduced-load work. They should be sharing their success stories and how they overcame challenges.

Additionally, leaders need to continue sharing the benefits and importance of reduced-load work. They need to clearly explain how this flexible work aligns with strategic goals. HR also needs to create performance standards and rewards that are fair to all employees regardless of workload.

If all groups can work through all 3 stages, research indicates reduced-load work can be successfully accomplished!

Conclusion

We know there’s a lot to digest in terms of building a sustainable career through reduced-load work. As an employee, you need the support of your manager, leaders, and organization as a whole to do this successfully. It won’t work for everyone but the tides are turning. Job share is becoming a more popular topic!

Do you need more flexibility in your work life? Do you have a good relationship with your manager? Maybe try bringing up the idea of reduced-load work. Are you a leader or in HR? Maybe consider creating policies to allow for reduced-load work. Be part of the change! While this is still relatively uncommon in the U.S., there’s no reason it can’t work for you or your organization. We know it can help improve well-being, work-life balance, and subjective career success. We should all be more open to creative ways to help people create sustainable careers!

Now, we’d love to hear from you. Do you have any experience in reduced-load work? What worked well and what didn’t? Let us know below!

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