In my May 10, 2021 guest blog, I proposed using flexible workers to address the vacancies at the U.S. Post Office, while at the same time improving service. Since then, I heard from many friends and colleagues who strongly and politely suggested flexible work positions should be used throughout the U.S. economy. Many people also  expanded on the individual and societal benefits of being able to work. I wholeheartedly agree with those thoughts and comments. So, together let’s take some next steps.

Media outlets abound with stories of employers seeking workers. “Help Wanted” signs are posted in most of the stores I visit. What is holding back workers from applying for those jobs? Clearly, there is a disconnect between employers and job seekers.

I deeply believe, as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, public and private employers need to take a serious look at what work will (should) look like, now. For many, the 40 hours-a-week/5-days-week work model is a relic of days long ago. As I stressed in my initial guest blog, the time has arrived to view employment through a new lens. There is an abundance of talent available, if we try new solutions.

Flexibility is becoming a new expectation

In a recent survey posted by Monster.Com 92% of respondents said they think now is a good time to look into the gig economy. Among those:

  • 57% said they would take some kind of gig job while they’re in-between jobs.
  • 52% said they would like long term contracts with flexible hours
  • 39% would want a short-term contract or temp work.

In January 2021, Future Forum published their findings from a survey funded by Slack and here’s what they found:

“Overall, our research shows that providing people flexibility in when they work is even more important than where they work. Employees at companies that allowed schedule flexibility reported 53% better productivity scores and 57% better work.”

Flexible work engages more workers

Research is emerging that shows that the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affected specific segments of the population. In particular, this includes new workers, women, and older adults.

New Workers

“Nearly 40 percent of recent graduates are underemployed, in large part due to growing skill requirements for entry-level workers.” Many jobs described as entry-level still also list multiple years of experience as a requirement. This is a Catch-22 for people just entering or returning to the workforce. The pandemic has only made this situation worse.

Women

A mix of factors may be pushing far more women than men out of the workforce during the pandemic. For instance, women are more likely to be caregivers. According to a Gallup poll:

Almost 40 million people are caregivers to other adults in the U.S. Over a third of these are 65 or older and most are women.

Older Adults

Right now, older adults are also dropping out of the workforce at higher rates:

“Older adults constitute a disproportionate share of labor-force dropouts. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that more adults age 65 and older left the labor force in 2020 than in any year since the U.S. began tracking such information in 1948. Many will likely never work again, jeopardizing their immediate and long-term financial security. Efforts to make the workplace safer during the pandemic, to better prepare older workers for today’s economy, and to root out ageism could help the older adults who want to work remain employed.”

However older workers in Colorado are ready and available for work. In a 2020 survey done by Changing the Narrative of Colorado workers over age 50, over 40% of respondents were looking for part-time or contract work. Additionally, older adults are the fastest growing segment of the population. Our economy needs to engage them.

flexible work diagram

Demand for flexible work was already increasing before the pandemic. Now, the reshuffling of work in the post-pandemic economy will require the creation of new, innovative solutions.

This will mean different things, depending on the job and the employee. For instance, flexible work could mean knowledge workers having location flexibility (remote and/or hybrid). Health care and restaurant workers could have more scheduling options, including part-time or contract, as with my original proposal for flexible work positions at the U.S. Post Office.

Employers — public and private — who adopt flexible work positions will be able to attract the best and brightest employees, increase productivity, and provide a work culture where an employee’s work-life balance is valued. If we had more flexible work options, we could engage many more people who could work part-time, remotely or with flexible schedules.

Flexible work is important enough to take a stand

In my original guest blog, I suggested the U.S. Post Office conduct a 3-year demonstration project to test the feasibility of flexible work positions for older adults. I continue to believe the U.S. Post Office has an opportunity to improve service and regain the public’s trust by being a leader in the use of flexible work.

To keep moving in a positive direction, my next steps include: writing letters, and reaching out to community leaders, friends, employers, media outlets, and legislators. If we all do this, we can make a difference. Reaching out could be as simple as offering to go for a walk, meeting for a cup of coffee or picking up the phone. Specifically, my conversations will focus on how we can change the post-COVID 19 pandemic economy and the role of flexible work positions, especially at the U.S. Post Office, and particularly for new entrants to our economy, women, and older adults.

Need some help reaching out to your legislators or writing letters to the media? Changing the Narrative can help. Contact them for resources and volunteer training. Also, here are some tips about contacting legislators. Remember that legislators receive a tremendous amount of correspondence and much of it is a form letter. Earlier this year, I reached out to my representative with a personal letter, and now am scheduling a time to meet. It may take time, but a personal meeting makes a bigger impact.

I know by working together, we can make a positive difference. As my friends at Changing the Narrative like to say, “many voices, one choir.”

Jim Westcott (You can reach me on LinkedIn.)

Thank you to everyone who took the time to read my May 10, 2021 guest blog here or LinkedIn. Your thoughts and comments provided me guidance for this second blog. And, more importantly, served as the inspiration for this second blog. Please keep reading and sending me your words of encouragement.