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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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  1. If top management needs to read a book on “Profit at the Bottom of the Ladder” you need new top management.

    Yes key decisions made at the senior level can kill a company fast. Decisions made at the bottom level of the organization will kill it slowly. But death is still death and slow death is more painful.

    If the president doesn’t show up today nobody will miss him. If the dishwasher, the person on the production line, the truck driver, or the salesperson on the floor is not there and engaged the line will stop, the food won’t be served, the goods not delivered, and customer will not be sold.

    The real problem boils down to that in most organization frontline employees are an operations pain but only an HR problem. In those organization that recognize the power of the frontline and HR and Operations work as a team to support the frontline managers and the frontline employees great thing happen.

    April 27, 2010

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