Finally, an innovative technology company figured out that work model innovation is as important as business model innovation. Amazon’s new 30-hour work week option for some of their technical teams is the biggest work news since we got the weekend off almost a century ago. It’s not just that Amazon is trying a new work structure that matters – it’s also why they are doing it that’s significant. They recognize that the rigid one-size-fits-all 40+ hour workweek may not be appealing to groups they need to attract like millennials and women.
For this announcement to be more than just good PR, Amazon will have to do more than just make a 30- hour week option available; they will have to make a 30-hour week career path safe, desirable, and normal. Here are six things Amazon should focus on to make sure this work option really works:
- Employees working 30 hours a week must be able to get the best work — the plum assignments can’t be reserved for those working longer hours.
- Employees working 30 hours a week can’t be treated like second-class citizens or “B” players not committed to their jobs.
- A 30-hour a week job has to be designed to really be a 30-hour a week job, not a 40+ hour-a-week job squeezed into 30 hours.
- Employees working 30 hours a week need access to the same development opportunities as others and they need to be promoted. Working 30 hours can’t be a dead end with no career advancement.
- The 30-hour option needs to be available up and down the corporate ladder — even for the executive team and the CEO. People throughout the company must be able to choose an alternative to the 40+ hour grind.
- A diverse and significant number of employees have to choose to work this way. If women are the only ones who take advantage of the opportunity, or just a few people here and there, it won’t be a true long-term option.
Overall, Amazon will have to adopt a mindset that values the quality of an employee’s contribution, rather than the amount of time spent on the job.
The company I co-founded and lead, Business Talent Group, has been creating jobs that can be done in less than 40 hours a week for the last 9 years – and according to Inc. Magazine’s latest list, we’re among the fastest-growing private companies in America. Based on BTG’s experience, if Amazon gets this right they will attract – and retain – a group of talented people who today have few options in corporate America – particularly in technology.
I know it can be difficult for hard-charging executives to believe, but there are lots of exceptionally talented, ambitious, professionally committed people who are not interested in a traditional 40+ hour a week job structure for their entire career. The 30-hour option would give Amazon a true competitive advantage in the perennial war for talent. Amazon may also find that 30-hour workers can be as productive as 40+hour workers and that they can more precisely match skill sets to job requirements (i.e., no need to have someone do something they’re not qualified for just to fill more hours).
For all Amazon’s achievements, its greatest contribution may be yet to come: making work as adjustable as a Kindle’s font size.
Forget shopping – Amazon’s real opportunity to change the world is to change work.
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