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Scheduling ”˜Bottom of the Ladder' Workers

Thank you to WFI board member David Creelman for the following guest blog post regarding Jody Heymann's Profit at the Bottom of the Ladder (Harvard Business Press).

The book marshals the evidence for investing in _bottom of the ladder' talent. (The fact she landed with that awkward _bottom of the ladder' phrase to describe this group is a sign of how neglected these workers are; in more regular management parlance the term is “low skill workers” or “bodies”.)

One insight Heymann shares is how important scheduling flexibility is to this group. Whereas flex-time and telecommuting are the norms for professionals “b of the l” workers often don't even get any paid time off.  Because professionals have flexibility it may not occur to them just how much lack of flexibility hurts “b of the l” workers and how much the organization stands to gain by building some flexibility into their schedule.

It may take a little thinking to make flexibility possible. Heymann reports that Autoliv Australia (an auto parts manufacturer) has four different shift start times: 6, 7,8 and 9 a.m.  People may not be able to get the shift they want immediately but with some cross-training and patience that can get the shift that suits their situation. (Note: Ricardo Semler, CEO of Brazil's Semco, would scoff at the notion that management has to work hard to come up with a solution to providing flexible schedules for workers. He'd say just give that responsibility to workers; they'll figure out a way to make it all work.)

We often think of worker scheduling as a way to minimize costs, but Heymann opens our eyes to the notion that creating scheduling flexibility may be the way to attract, motivate and retain A-players in the _b of the l” jobs- ­something that can have big impact on profitability.

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