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Saving Jobs in the Great Recession

Some everyday voices from a Jewish community near you:

Quote #1: "Officially, I have Fridays off. I get paid for four days though I still work five. At least I’m not working six days."

Quote #2: "You’re doing a great job. But I’m still uncomfortable with you leaving so early."

Quote #3: "Sheila and David want to share the Planning Director job. They figured out how to divide the work. But do I want to set a precedent?"

Sound familiar?

Speaker #1 runs a department in a family service agency. Her supervisor lets her take Fridays off to care for her aging father.  But to manage her workload, she’s still working that fifth day, unpaid.

What about Speaker #2? The exec of an influential organization, he’s agreed that his high-potential program director can leave at 4:00 p.m. to pick up her children. He’s torn between being an enlightened leader and an old-fashioned boss.

Speaker #3 is the human resources director of a federation. Sheila wants to finish her doctoral dissertation. David has a new baby. Our HR director knows Sheila and David can make it work, but this might open the floodgates. What if everybody wants a job share?

The Jewish community holds high its values of family, community, education and spirituality. So why can’t the leadership devote more effort to supporting employees who are dedicated to their professions and equally passionate about fulfilling their personal commitments?

This especially affects women. Women still shoulder two-thirds of all household and caregiving responsibilities.  Inside and outside the Jewish community, many professional women will need flexible work arrangements, or even a hiatus, at some point in their careers. But, contrary to popular opinion, most will return to work and the career track. But they find that even a temporary leave permanently affects their pay scales and their career aspirations.

The more pernicious effect is that managers may decide, from day of hire, that many young women will eventually leave. Is it any surprise that women do not benefit from the career investments enjoyed by their male colleagues?

Let’s be honest about the struggles that everyone faces in balancing life and work. When we dismantle the notion that 24/6 (or 24/7) equals excellence, we will create organizations where Jewish professionals work smarter, not harder.

Which brings us to our fourth and final quote.

"You don’t ever want a crisis to go to waste. It’s an opportunity to do important things that you would otherwise avoid." -Rahm Emanuel

Rahm Emanuel, Chief of Staff for President-elect Barack Obama, was referring, of course, to the domestic recession. What opportunity does this crisis represent for the Jewish community, also facing hard choices, as contributions recede and budgets shrink?

Maybe this recession will force Jewish organizations to examine the way that work gets done and to shift the measure of value – from face-time to results. Instead of using a hatchet to eliminate jobs, senior executives can wield a scalpel to carve flexible schedules and job shares. This crisis gives the Jewish community an opportunity to translate moral values into intelligent policies that keep more people employed and allow women to stay viable in the leadership pipeline

Shifra Bronznick and Didi Goldenhar co-authors of Leveling the Playing Field: Advancing Women in Jewish Organizational Life, are guest blogging on Jewcy this week with their co-author Marty Linsky. Stay tuned.

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