April 6, 2008

Flexi time

While visiting friends and family, I discovered the obvious -- the US labor force is more flexible than its European counterpart and new technology has made it even more so. Everyone is on-ramping after off-ramping, working full or part time from home, job sharing and mixing odd skills together to explore new horizons in creative ways.

One friend has on-ramped to a full time VP position that includes a daily commute after many years of job-sharing an executive position with a colleague: 2.5 days / week plus a conference call or two. It worked for years and they both moved up the totem pole in the process.

Another friend is on-ramping into the creative art world after years of part time commercial art and being a stay at home mom. Our old group of college friends gathered for an opening with one of her works -- Brava! She is setting up a studio at home to start giving art lessons too.

A sister works from home as an editor, popping into the office once a month or so.

Another sister set up a business from her home.

The sister of a friend moved from Maine to Oregon and kept her job! By her choice she works a twenty hour / week schedule online as she keeps an eye on toddlers.

The other sister of the same friend makes money off a website and the friend herself works for a large pharmaceutical company, three days from home and two in the office (over an hour's commute) while her husband works four days a week from home in IT and checks into the local office only on Fridays.

The husband of yet another friend works most days from home, dropping by the office every so often for meetings. Then again, he travels a lot too.

Another friend has managed to keep a three day / week schedule as a doctor at a large medical center to be able to raise her children as a single mom.

My husband (a libero professionista) even wrote that he worked all day Saturday so that he can be free to pick me up from the airport on Monday.

The world of work is changing -- but at a much faster rate in the US. All those cumbersome labor laws and contracts based on categories of workers make this flexibility a dream for us. There is no way we could ever sit down with a boss and work out an individualized and mutually beneficial arrangement. It would have to fit into a pre-ordained state-dictated category of salary, obligations and benefits.

But as is true of everything Italian, there is secret route to flexibility -- the family business. It seems to me that this is the real reason there are few big businesses and a multitude of small and medium sized family-owned and run enterprises. Whatever stays in the family eludes the crippling inflexibility of outside forces. Your Dad would certainly let you attend your son's (and his grandson's) school play, increase and decrease hours as needed over the years -- while programing your growth in the company and prepping you for its management.

Ah yes, where there is a will, there is a way.

a dopo-domani from Rome,


Anonymous said...

What you say about small/medium size family businesses in Italy is true- BUT Only for the immediate family members! I worked for a small/medium size family business and when the sister (it was a brother/sister run company) got pregnant, she left for several months on maternity leave and then worked part-time a few months after birth. Lovely for her... but for those of us who weren't related to them, there was NO flexibility at all. We were all being exploited (I don't use that word lightly, trust me) and had no possibility of enjoying these so-called benefits of working for a small family-run business. That's why I suggest you rethink our comparison, YES they allow flexibility for immediate family members but most small-mid sized businesses also hire non-relatives to work... and that's when exploitation comes in!

Anonymous said...

Very nice post. I think Italy still has quite a long way go to go in terms of work flexibility for the average person. I'm so glad that many of my American friends have been able to find a nice balance between work and family with more flexible schedules. Many believe the quality of their work is better and that they are more productive.

gillian said...

welcome home! we have missed you!

Elizabeth Abbot said...

Hi anonymous. definitely agree, there is nothing worse than working for a family-run business as a non-family member. They tend to take care of family first in every respect. I meant working for a business in the family as a means to access flexibility. Being a "figlio di papĂ " has its advantages on many levels.