Takeaways from Amazon’s New 30-Hour Workweek Experiment

Last week, Amazon announced that it will soon pilot a program in which entire teams are hired to work a reduced number of hours. Some commentators see this experiment as a way to attract talented women, who also have families, back to the workforce. What are the takeaways for associations?

As my kids start school this September, my husband and I will commence a tag-teaming relay of drop-offs and pickups featuring walking, driving, biking, and Metro riding. Just getting all five of us to our desks on time feels like it should be an Olympic sport. But our schedule is far from unique: Working parents—and especially working mothers, who according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics do the bulk of housework and childcare—run crazy obstacle races as they try to balance work and family schedules.

That balance is something Amazon might be addressing with last week’s announcement of a 30-hour workweek experiment. The Washington Post wrote that Amazon, known for its grueling work schedules and unreasonably high standards, as reported by The New York Times, will soon pilot a 30-hour-week schedule. In the experiment, entire teams of employees—including managers—would work these reduced hours, still enjoying the same benefits of their 40-hour counterparts but receiving only 75 percent of the salary. Monday through Thursday, 30-hour employees will have to work a core schedule of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., but they can schedule the remaining 14 hours as they see fit.

“We want to create a work environment that is tailored to a reduced schedule and still fosters success and career growth,” said the company on an posting for an informational seminar it held last week. “This initiative was created with Amazon’s diverse workforce in mind and the realization that the traditional full-time schedule may not be a ‘one size fits all’ model.”

Currently, Amazon is a male-heavy workforce, with men occupying 61 percent of the jobs and 76 percent of the management roles. Likewise, many commentators across the internet extrapolate that with this new experiment, Amazon is trying to close the gender gap, by offering a schedule that might appeal more to women.

Some applaud the initiative, such as Rita McGrath, a professor at Columbia Business School, who told The Washington Post, “Amazon is constantly pushing and trying new things as a company. They fail a lot, but it’s worth it to stay innovative.”

Others are wary, such as Lesley Jane Seymour, the former editor of Redbook, who wrote on LinkedIn about potential dangers to women. She wonders if this type of 30-hour schedule is a so-called “mommy track” and whether it will hurt women’s long-term salary or promotion potential.

Still others like Tim Worstall on Forbes have a slightly more cynical take: “Amazon has spotted a chance to get talent on the cheap as a result of other employers not offering child friendly, or child care friendly, working hours. And it’s driven purely by market forces.”

But what about associations? What takeaways or comparisons can be made?

First, we can pat ourselves on the back for having a closer male-female ratio in the C-suite. In ASAE’s newly released Association Compensation & Benefits Study, researchers found that although male association CEOs (56 percent) continue to outweigh their female counterparts (44 percent), the margin has been closing incrementally since 2008.

Second, we might ask ourselves some questions. If we watch and find that the Amazon experiment works—that talented people are flocking to the company for these reduced schedules and leading rewarding personal and professional lives—should we adopt something similar? You may also consider what truly inspires productivity and ingenuity in the workplace. Is it really hours logged at a desk?

Finally, you may want to think about the role that part-timers or reduced-hour employees can play in your association. Will you change anything at your association if you find Amazon is successful in their 30-hour workweek experiment? Let us know in the comments.


(Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

Emily Bratcher

By Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. MORE

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