You know the old joke: A robber accosts the great radio comedian Jack Benny and says, “Your money or your life.” There’s a long pause, after which Benny replies, “I’m thinking, I’m thinking.” The joke was funny because it was assumed that “my life!” was only one right answer to the question. But when it comes to employee compensation, it’s always been the opposite: What employees want is more money, right?
Well, according to Forbes magazine, Amazon is asking the question for real. In August, they began a pilot program that lets employees choose to earn 75% of their current salary for a 30-hour work week. Everyone has to work core hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Additional hours are flexible. If employees discover the 30-hour week (or 75% salary) isn’t for them, they can switch back to full-time.
The Forbes article said the pilot might be a PR move to counter the image of Amazon as a “bruising workplace” as depicted in a 2015 New York Times article. But Amazon may also be aligning its employee compensation to the values of Millennials, who are “leading the way in prioritizing job flexibility,” according to Fortune magazine.
As one of those “what’s all this nonsense about work/life balance?” Baby Boomers, I’m curious to see how all this plays out. Years ago, I was at a newly merged company whose major offices were in the California Bay area and downtown Minneapolis. The Minneapolis folks were allowed “summer hours” of 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The California folks were allowed freeway flexibility, coming in at 9:00 and working until 5:30 or 6:00. With a two-hour time difference, that left a scant three and a half hours of shared working time. And all but a half hour at each end fell in someone’s scheduled lunch hour. The upshot was that any scheduled meeting became a source of resentment.
I keep reading that Millennials want to be judged by “output, not hours,” and that sounds lovely. But it’s hard to keep your output up when the people you need for input aren’t available.