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e Academy of Management jaurnal

2000, Vol. 43 , No. 6, 1211-1226.

ORGANIZATIONAL PARADIGMS OF REDUCED-LOAD WORK:


ACCOMMODATION, ELABORATION, AND
TRANSFORMATION
MARY DEAN LEE

McGill University
SHELLEY M. MAcDERMID

Purdue University
MICHELLE L. BUCK

McGill University
This study examines variation in organizational responses to part-time work arrangements among professionals and managers. Analyses of over 350 interviews generated
three paradigms of differences in ways organizations implemented and interpreted
reduced-load work: accommodation, elaboration, and transformation. The paradigms
can be viewed as representing firms' proclivity to engage in organizationallearning by
using individual cases ofreduced-load work as opportunities for learning new ways of
working and new possibilities for core business priorities.

ers in one kind of alternative work arrangement,


reduced-load work. Individuals in this kind of arrangement work less than full-time, by choice, and
they receive proportionally reduced compensation.
Although many anecdotal accounts of part-time
professional work can be found in the popular
press (e.g. , Nakache , 1999; O'Brien, 1998; Walmsley, 2000), little systematic research has focused on
this relatively new phenomenon. Sorne notable exceptions include studies on part-time work in specific professions, including law (Epstein et al.,
1999), accounting (Levy, Flynn, & Kellogg , 1997),
and engineering, computer science, and technical
writing (Meiksins & Whalley, 1996). Previous research focused on part-time professionals and managers in corporations is limited and has emphasized the role of the indjvidual in making such
arrangements work, highlighting attributes such as
competence, flexibility, clear priori ti es, responsiveness, and initiative (Catalyst, 1998). No studies
to date have deeply examined the actual experiences of professionals and managers working on a
reduced load basis and the perceptions of those
surrounding them in specific organizational contexts. Clark (1998) recently made an eloquent case
for focusing on the organizational context if researchers are to make sense of this new way of
working. The purposes of this study, then, were to
investigate part-time work among professionals
and managers in context and to examine and analyze organizational responses to employee requests
to work less at an organizational leve] of analysis.

The growth of alternative work arrangements, including flextime, job sharing, telecommuting, and
part-time work, has been well documented (Catalyst, 1997; Epstein, Seron, Oglensky, & Saute , 1998;
Mirchandani, 1998; Scandura & Lankau, 1997). The
changing workforce is gradually pushing firms to
adapt to the family structures of their employees
and provide more options in the distribution and
scheduling of work (Galinsky & Bond, 1998). Furthermore, the productivity crisis and increased international competition have led firms to experiment with new structures and new employment
relationships and contracts in arder to cut costs and
maximize profitability (Ferber & O'Farrell , 1991).
Both workers and employers want more flexibility,
more ability to adapt to shifting external demands-family or personallife in the case of workers and competitive market pressures in the case of
organizations (Williams & MacDermid, 1994).
This article focuses on professionals and manag-

We are deeply indebted to the over 350 men and


women who shared their time and insights with us.
Other members of the research team were Margaret L.
Williams , Carol Schreiber, Leslie Borrelli, Sharon Leiba
O'Sullivan , Minda Bernstein, Stephen Smith, and Pamela Dohring. We would also like to thank the editor and
three anonymous reviewers for this journal and Karen
Locke for their detailed feedback and valuable suggestions. This research was made possible by financia! support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Social
Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
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Academy of Management Jo urna]

That is, we set out to discern and articulate differences across organizations in the implementation
and interpretation of reduced-load work.
Of course, research on corporate responsiveness
to change in general is not new. Two relevant
streams of literature are organizational adaptation
and strategic human resource management. Organizational adaptation theory (Child, 1972; Daft &
Weick, 1984; Hannan & Freeman, 1977) has compared the influences of raw environmental forces
and strategic choice in driving organizational response to change. Strategic human resource management (Fombrun, Tichy, & Devanna, 1984; Miles
& Snow, 1984) is a contingency framework according to which sorne organizations perform better
than others beca use of appropriate or inappropriate
alignment of human resource policies with business strategies and externa! environmental forces.
These two theoretical approaches share an assumption that corporate responsiveness to change can be
studied through examining senior management actions or adoption of official policies and the associated "fit" of those policies with business stJ;ate-gies and/or externa! environment conditions. Sorne
studies, in fact, have used these frameworks for
studying work-family policies and alternative work
arrangements (Davenport & Pearlson, 1998; Friedman, Christensen, & DeGroot, 1998; Milliken, Martins, & Margan, 1998). However, official policies
and management proclamations do not necessarily
reveal much about informal, unofficial experimentation with change or actual implementation and
interpretation of formal policies and programs. For
example, several authors have made the point that
although new forms of work are clearly emerging,
both employers and employees have been slow to
fully embrace them for a number of complex reasons (Bailyn, 1994; Kossek, Barber, & Winters,
1999).

A second limitation common to organizational


adaptation theory and the strategic human resource
management perspective is that these two research
streams do not fundamentally address the question
of organizational differences in responsiveness to
change. In organizational adaptation research, the
central question has to do with the relative effects
of environment factors and managerial strategic
,. choice on organizational outcomes; in strategic human resource management, the central question is
how to align human resource practices with business strategy and externa! environment factors in
arder to maximize organizational effectiveness. A different theoretical framework for examining
the issue of organizational responsiveness to
change is organizationallearning (Argyris & Schon,
1978; March, 1991; Weick & Westley, 1996). The

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concept of organizational learning focuses on differences in learning styles , and it focuses not only
on top management decisions and actions, or official policies and practices, but also on the way
things are done at a grassroots level and throughout
an organizatjon. The idea is that one must look at
patterns of how individual employees and work
units "behave" and make sense of that behavior, if
one is to understand organizational responsiveness
to change. The variability in these patterns of behavior and the interactions between behavior and
organizational policies and practices, then, are key
to understanding how organizations respond to environmental change in general and, perhaps more
specifically, to alternative work arrangements exemplifying an emergent challenge to the status quo.
A number of theorists have proposed different
kinds or levels of organizationallearning that vary
in the extent to which learning remains a relatively
individual, isolated instance or crosses boundaries
and is integrated into other areas. For example,
Argyris and Schon (1978) described two different
kinds of organizational learning: (1) single-loop,
where organizations respond to problems by modifying strategies to achieve established objectives
without reexamining given structures, norms,
goals, and (2) double-loop, where organizations respond to errors or problems by reexamining the
entire context and looking for solutions beyond the
status quo. Ulrich, Von Glinow, and Jick (1993)
define.d learning organizations by their ability to
share ideas or lessons across organizational boundaries, _applying them, for example, from one division to another or from one type of job or work team
to another. Crossan, Lane, and White (1999) posited
a framework suggesting that four processes of organizationallearning can be identified at three different levels-individual, group, and organizational.
These include intuiting and interpreting at the individual level, integrating at the group level, and
institutionalizing at the organizationallevel. March
(1991) and Weick and Westley (1996) focused on
the two counterbalancing forces of exploitation and
exploration in organizationallearning. Exploitation
involves establishing routines and procedures to
in crease efficiency by reducing variety. Exploration
involves experimenting with new ideas , risk taking, and increasing variety. They noted that organizations must both establisl:. routines and accept
disruptive, nonroutine behavior in arder to continue to respond and adapt to change.
Although these approaches to organizational
learning suggest different ways organizations adapt
to change, the distinctions made have not yet led
either to development of a theoretical continuum of
organizational learning or to research in which

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Lee, MacDermid, and Buck

there is an attempt to compare organizations systematically in organizationallearning terms. However, March's (1991) articulation ofthe dynamics of
exploitation and exploration and Crossan and colleagues' positing that organizational learning involves an iterative process of moving from exploration to exploitation to exploration represent
potential foundations for identifying different
thresholds of organizationallearning. March (1991)
made it clear that organizations make trade-offs in
choosing exploration over exploitation, or vice
versa. This is because the short-term gains of exploitation are greater but can lead to stagnation; the
long-term gains of exploration are critical but riskier and more uncertain. It is not possible to maximize both. Crossan and colleagues, on the other
hand, suggested that, ideally, successful experimentation with new ideas leads to routinization or
institutionalization of the better ones and then to a
cycle of continuous exploration, even as the experimenting organization is also exploiting the fruits
of exploration. Organizational learning theory,
then, suggests that organizations respond to change
in their external environments, or challenges to the
status quo, in highly variable ways. As of yet, however, there has been little attempt to compare and
contrast this variability and thus further elaborate
this theoretical framework.
The relatively new phenomenon of reduced-load
work arrangements can be viewed as a specific
example of organizational experimentation with
new ideas. As such, it represents an opportunity for
application of organizational learning theory to a
systematic comparison of organizations' implementation and interpretation of this alternative
work arrangement. The purpose of this study was
to examine differential organizational responses to
shifting needs of employees and requests for new
ways of working, particular!y among professionals
and managers. The primary objective was to find
out how organizations are responding to employee
requests to work less and how these nonstandard
forms of work are being implemented and interpreted in specific work contexts. The agenda of the
present study was not just to learn about another
alternative work arrangement, but to focus attention on the process of incremental change in the
patterns of behavior going on in organizations in
response to changing demographic characteristics
of the workforce. In other words, our intent was to
examine organization-level variability in response
to a specific example of a challenge to the status
quo, as manifested in requests for reduced-load
work. Furthermore, the organizational responses
were to be understood in the specific contexts presented by multiple stakeholder perspectives, and

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the focus was not just on the present but also on the
future, the changing employment relationships and
career structures that may emerge in organizations
owing to demographic changes in the workforce.
METHODS

Data for this article come from a qualitative study


of managers and professionals voluntarily working
less than full-time (.90 full-time equivalent [FTE] or
less) for family and/or lifestyle reasons and incurring accompanying reductions in compensation.
Using a case study approach (Yin, 1994), we sought
multiple perspectives on each work arrangement
by interviewing not only the target managers and
professionals, but also four additional stakeholders
per case . These included the worker's senior manager, a peer-level coworker, the spouse or partner
(where applicable), and a human resource representative of the employing firm.
Sample

The target participants were recruited using personal contacts with human resources and work-life
administrators, cold calls to employers, and direct
mail solicitations to members of organizations
(such as the Association of Part-Time Professionals). For each firm in the final sample, approximately two others had been approached; the nonparticipating firms either had no employees who fit
the criteria, or they were unable or unwilling to do
the search work to determine whether they had
potential participants. Of the professionals and
managers approached, 85 percent agreed to participate.
Because we sought a heterogeneous sample, the
representation of industries and jobs was monitored throughout the recruitment process. As participants were successfully recruited in one industry or type of job, we and our research associates
pursued leads in other sectors of the economy. We
also sought to achieve a mnimum 10 percent representation of men in the sample, in view of estimates of men's participation in reduced-load work
at the professional and managerial level (Catalyst,
1997). In general, we limited ourselves to a maximum of three cases per firm in order to include the
maximum number and range of organizations in
the sample. However, in three firms four cases were
completed, because the jobs were very diverse.
The total sample consisted of 87 cases of reduced-load work in professional and managerial
jobs in 45 different firms. Because of equipment
failure or lost audiotapes in 5 cases, the final sample was 82 cases from 42 firms. All stakeholder

Academy of Management fournal

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The 42 firms employing the reduced-load professionals and managers represented a wide variety of
industries, including manufacturing, telecommunications, financia! institutions, and professional services. One-third of the firms were in Canada, and
two-thirds were in the United States. Although the
participating companies ranged in size from 170 to
240,000 employees, they were mostly quite large,
averaging over 48,000 workers. On the average,
workforces were 46.4 percent female, 15.6 percent
unionized, and 10.9 percent part-time.

TABLE 1
Demographic Information, Individual Sample 8
Characteristic

Mean

Range

Age
Salaryb
Spouse/partner salary
Number of years on
reduced load
Percent load reduction
Current hours per week
Previous hours per week
Years of experience
Age of youngest child
Age of oldest child

38.8
$79,441
$92,785
4.2

26-53
$19,950-$140,000
0-$320,000
0.25-15.00

72%
31.9
50
13.7
4.7
7.9

40-90%
20-55
35-80
2.5-35.0
0.1-15.0
1-27

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Data Collection and Reduction

a n = 82; 90 percent of the individuals were women, and 54


percent had postgraduate degrees.
b Prorated to FTE work hours.

Data were gathered in one-on-one confidential


interviews, usually conducted in person (10 percent took place on the telephone). Interviews with
the target respondents lasted 1-2 hours; the other
interviews lasted approximately 45 minutes. Interviews were conducted between August 1996 and
March 1998. Each interview was conducted by one
of seven members of a research team that included
the authors. All the interviewers were women. In
addition, employees who reported directly to each
manager interviewed were asked to complete a
brief survey anonymously and return it directly to
the researchers.
The interviews were semistructured and covered
the following tapies: (1) the nature of and reasons
for the reduced-load work arrangement, (2) how the
job was restructured to accommodate the reducedload schedule, (3) perceptions of the challenges
and difficulties involved in negotiating and working on a reduced-load basis, (4) costs and benefits
ofreduced-load work arrangements, and (5) factors
important in making reduced-load work arrangements successful. All interviews were audiorecorded and transcribed verbatim for analysis.
Because each complete set of interviews in this
study generated about 100 single-spaced pages of
transcript-a total of over 8,000 pages-data reduction was a necessary precursor to analysis. Using

interviews were completed in 68 of the 82 cases.


Eleven cases were missing 1 interview, and 3 were
missing two interviews.
Table 1 shows demographic information on the
target individuals in the study. Ninety percent were
female, and about 90 percent had children. Respondents had been with their employers an average of
about 14 years, and their reduced-load work arrangements had existed for an average of 4 years.
On the average, the arrangements were structured
to be O. 72 of an equivalent full-time position. Participants worked an average of 32 hours per week,
about 18 hours less than they had worked when
full-time. Most of the managers were project managers or line managers or were responsible for other
professionals in support functions, occupying positions such as director of finance. Professionals
were individual contributors in such areas as research and development, marketing, engineering,
finance, human resources, and communications.
The managers had significantly higher salaries and
worked significantly longer hours than the professionals. Table 2 gives an overview of characteristics
of the other stakeholders interviewed in the study.

TABLE 2
Characteristics of the Other Stakeholders Intervieweda

,.
Characteristic

Senior
Managers

Coworkers

Human Resources
Representa ti ves

Spouses/
Partners

Nurnber interviewed
Mean ageb
Mean work hoursc

87
45.2
55.3

81
40.7
51.0

63
43.6
51.5

77
39.9
47.6

a For the first three types of other stakeholders (senior managers, coworkers, and human resources representatives), the percentages of
men were 70.3 , 54.3, and 23.1, respectively.
b For the four stakeholder types, n's were 81, 80, 26, and 75, respectively, owing to missing data.
e For the four stakeholder types, n's were 76, 68, 23, and 77, respectively, owing to missing data.

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Lee, MacDermid, and Buck

all transcripts and surveys, the interviewer for a


given case prepared a "reflective memo" that relied
upon two specific qualitative techniques: generation of a role-ordered matrix and of a case summary
(Miles & Huberman, 1994). The interviewer also
rated several dimensions of the case. The reflective
memo provided a summary and map of the case
that was 10-20 pages long.
There were four parts to the reflective memo. The
first part described factual background information
about the case, such as the nature of the organization, job titles of all respondents in the case, logistics of the reduced-load work arrangement (for example, the percentage of work reduction and how it
was achieved, the schedule for and location of the
work, and salary and benefits). In the second section, we used a role-ordered matrix technique to
examine recurrent themes drawn from a pilot study
completed earlier (see Lee, Wright, & Engler, 1997).
Each row of the matrix summarized responses from
one member of the case (the focal worker or a
particular stakeholder); each column focused on
one of the following themes: positive and negative
implications of the reduced-load arrangements for
the individual, the organization, or the family,
and respondent attributions about what made the
reduced-load arrangements work well or not so
well. In the third part of the reflective memo, interviewers summarized information from the transcripts about five aspects of the case: (1) negotiations- how the arrangement carne about and what
alternatives were considered; (2) managerial strategies-actions of target individuals or their bosses
seen by case members as fostering success; (3) gender ideology-interviewees' comments linking behaviors, roles, or outcomes to gender; (4) organizational characteristics-descriptions of workplace
culture, business objectives, the philosophy of top
management, and the positioning of a firm in the
industry; and (5) human resource policies, whether
related to work and family or to other human resource issues like performance evaluation or downsizing.
In the final section of the reflective memo, the
interviewer noted subtexts-notable consistencies
or inconsistencies across stakeholders within each
case and data that seemed puzzling-and then
rated the overall outcomes of the particular
reduced-load work arrangement. The rating summarized the costs, benefits, and overall success of
the case, taking into account the perspectives of all
stakeholders. The ratings did not reflect the interviewer's personal opinion; rather, they were intended to summarize the case members' perceptions of costs and benefits. Using a scale from 1 to
7 (1 = low) , interviewers first separately rated the

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costs and the benefits of the reduced-load work


arrangement from three perspectives, the target individual's, the family's, and the organization's,
thus generating six ratings. By subtracting costs
from benefits in each domain, three "net benefit"
scores were created, one each for the individual,
the family, and the organization. A final rating assessed the overall success ofthe reduced-load work
arrangement. Two researchers rated each case, taking into account the perspecves of all the stakeholders simultaneously when considering: (1) the
extent to which an individual professional or manager was happy with her or his work arrangements,
both day-to-day and from a long-term career perspective, (2) the extent to which the individual's
senior manager and coworkers reported positive
outcomes, and (3) the extent to which the spouse or
partner and target individual reported positive effects on children, family life, and/or the couple's
relationship. A rating of 1 indicated that consistently negative outcomes were reported by stakeholders, and a 9 indicated consistently positive
reports. The two raters discussed and resolved any
differences. After the ratings were complete, we
created three groups: high success (scores of 7-9),
moderate success (5-6), and low success (1-4) .
Analyses
Data analyses followed a grounded theory approach (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). We extracted
themes from the data through the process of constant comparison, alternating between reducing
data through inductive techniques, such as categorizing cases, and systematically asking deductive
questions to examine the data in new ways (Strauss
& Corbin, 1998). This procedure fosters the development of new and conceptually dense theoretical
frameworks that extend understanriing of a particular phenomenon.
Identifying salient organizational themes. The
original data had been gathered at the level of the
individual respondents; the reflective memos aggregated data to the level of the case (the constellation of stakeholders and the focal worker). The
first step in analyzing the data at the organizational
level was to identify salient themes in respondents'
perceptions of the organizations, according to four
categories of observation: (1) the organizational rationale for allowing these arrangements, (2) organizational outcomes, (3) organizational factors that
facilitated the success of these arrangements , and
(4) organizational factors that hindered the success
of these arrangements. The first author began by
examining each reflective memo from the managerial sample; these represented slightly more than

Academy of Management fournal

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half the cases and firms in the total sample. (The


managerial cases were from 26 firms, and the 16
remaining firms involved professional cases only.
Limiting initial analyses allowed for later verification using the remainder of the sample.) Themes
were considered salient if they were mentioned in
at least a third (eight) of the managerial firms. The
first two authors set this threshold for saliency after
all themes had been recorded and it was clear that
themes emerging from only a few firms would not
ultimately be useful for comparison of firms. Table
3 shows the salient themes found in this stage of
the analysis.
The next step was to reexamine the data to determine the stance of each organization on the salient themes. Still working primarily with data
from the 26 firms employing reduced-load managers (as opposed to professionals, defined as those
without subordinates), the first author generated a
profile of each firm summarizing its characteristics
according to whatever salient themes had been
mentioned. Both the reflective memos and the original transcripts were used to construct a description that reflected themes converging across multiple stakeholders. When multiple reduced-load
managers had been interviewed at a given firm, or
there were also professional cases from the firm in
our sample, the first two authors examined all cases
to prepare the profile. Care was taken to note or,
where possible, resolve apparent discrepancies.
For example, discrepancies within a firm about the

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existence of formal work-life programs could typically be resolved by consulting the interviews of
human resources representatives or senior managers, who often described or produced documentation of specific policies. Here is an example of a
firm profile:
ABC Co.

Rationale for approval of reduced load focused on


productivity gains
Work hour norms very high
Resistance to idea of a manager working "part-time"
Firm in mature industry, recent downsizing
Neutral impact ofreduced-load work on unit performance

Classifying the organizations. The profiles


made it possible to classify the firms according to
salient organizational themes. We undertook an iterative sorting process that was somewhat analogous to the quantitative procedure of cluster analysis to group the firms, beginning with very small
groups of 2-4 firms that shared a small number of
characteristics and then collapsing these groups
until no further aggregation seemed sensible. This
process resulted in the 26 firms being clustered into
three groups, which we tentatively labeled "accommodation," "di versification," and "transformation. "
So far, the data analyses had been exclusively

TABLE 3
Predominant Themes at the Organizational Level of Analysis
Rationale for Employer
Response
Long-standing commitment to
support and development of
employees
Recruitment and retention
Business needs and strategic
direction of firm
Diversity goals
Productivity gains expected

Facilitating Factors

Hindering Factors

Organizational Outcomes

Senior management or top


executive support for
alternative work arrangements
Ongoing structural change in
firm creates an openness to
innovation, different ways of
doing things
Work hours per week for
professionals and managers
are general!y high (60 +)
Formal work-life policies around
reduced-load or part-time
work
Formal work-life programs in
general and widely publicized
success stories of alternati ve
work arrangements
Well-established structures for a
variety of work schedules and
loads , continuously changing

Organizational culture values


"face time"
Resistance to idea of a manager
working part-time
Firm in competitive, highgrowth industry with more
work than it can handle
Firm in mature industry
focusing on downsizing,
resulting in expanded workloads
Lack of integration of reducedload arrangements into
structure of work unit
Lack of integration with overall
human resource systems of
performance evaluation,
rewards, career development,
and so forth

Neutral or positive impact of


reduced workload on unit
performance
Positive impact on recruitment
and retention
Allowing alternative work
arrangements enhances
corporate image
Alternative work arrangements
spreading as a result of
successful cases
Continued investment in
professionals and managers on
reduced load
Firm stretching to respond to
changing demographics in
labor force and the perceived
need to adapt quickly and
effectively to change in
general in order to compete
globally

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Lee, MacDermid, and Buck

inductive, moving from very specific aspects of the


data to higher levels of abstraction. If the emerging
classification scheme was to be useful, however, it
had to be possible to apply it in a deductive, topdown way. To this end, the first author developed
a list of the characteristics of each of the three
groups of firms identified and labeled as indicated
above, and then the second author used these characteristics to try to classify the 16 remaining firms
in the sample. Inability to accomplish this would
have argued against the viability of the classificaticin scheme. All but 2 firms were successfully assigned.
The next step in the analysis was to isolate the
dimensions that appeared to undergird the clustering of the organizations. We identified four dimensions as consistently differentiating the firms: negotiation context, responsibility for the success of
work arrangements, employer rationale, and employer posture. Negotiation context refers to any
organization-level policies, mechanisms, values,
and traditions that influenced approval of an arrangement. The second dimension, responsibility
for the success of the arrangement, concerns who
was perceived as responsible for making the arrangement a success: the target individual? the
boss? the organization? a combination of stakeholders? The third dimension addresses whether the
organization's rationale for approving the arrangement was focused on responding to an immediate
set of unique circumstances or on strategically addressing longer-term human resource or business
objectives. Finally, the fourth dimension reflects
the posture of a firm toward reduced-load arrangements in general, or the degree to which it was
open to such arrangements and welcomed them.
Table 4 summarizes the distinguishing features of
the paradigm groups along the four key dimensions.
After articulating the dimensions inductively derived as described above, the first two authors
tested their utility in replicating the initial classification of firms as follows: Using the four dimen-

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sions, they carried out a blind reclassification of a


third of the 42 firms in the total sample into paradigm groups. Through this process, the authors
agreed that two classifications (14 percent of the
subsample) should be changed. Further discussion
of the classification process resulted in modifying
the label of the middle classification category to
"elaboration" to accurately reflect not just increasing the variety, but also increasing the breadth, of
reduced-load work arrangements. In the final classification, the 42 firms were distribu ted across the
paradigms as follows: accommodation, 9; elaboration, 17; and transformation, 16.
Vali dating the paradigm classificati ons. We
used discriminant function analysis procedures
recommended by Tabachnick and Fidell (1996) to
test the dimensions empirically, reasoning that accurate replication of the original paradigm clusters
would be evidence of good construct validity for
the more parsimonious set of underlying dimensions. The predictor variables were simple ratings
of organizational characteristics representing each
key dimension of the paradigms. One author rated
all the firms in which managers had been interviewed; the other rated all the firms in which professionals had been interviewed. Reliability of the
specific ratings was checked using the firms that
appeared in both groups. The sample for the analysis comprised the 42 organizatiqns in the study,
minus 2 organizations that were missing data on
one or more of the predictors.
The negotiation context dimension was represented by two variables, one indicating whether or
not an organization had formal policies concerning
the availability of reduced-load work (O = no, 1 =
guidelines, 2 = formal policy). The second indicated whether or notan organization was "employeecentered" (O = no, 1 = yes). Organizations were
considered to have employee-centered cultures, for
example, if multiple respondents described their
employer as respecting employees' needs. The responsibility dimension was the average rating of
boss support (1 = low, 2 = moderate, 3 = high) for

TABLE 4

Organizational Paradigms of Reduced-Load Work


Variable

Accommodation

Negotiation context

Guided by individual situation;


reluctant
Onus on target individual

Responsibility
Employer rationale

Employer posture

Financia! benefits
Increased productivity
Avoid loss of valued individual
Acquiesce and contain

Elaboration
Guided by policy and culture
Policies and programs plus target
individual
Retention
Helps firm meet diversity goals
Getting on work-life bandwagon
Institutionalize and manage

Transformation
Guided by individual
situation and culture
Shared by target individual and
senior manager
Business needs
Organizational adaptation
Recruitrnent and retention
Experiment and learn

Academy of Management fournal

all cases from a firm. Highly supportive bosses


tended to share responsibility for the success of
reduced-load work arrangements, instead of letting
it rest solely on the shoulders of the reduced-load
workers. The employer rationale dimension was
representad by ratings of (1) whether a firm used a
business-needs rationale (such as concern about
recruitment) to justify reduced-load arrangements
(O = no, 1 = yes) and (2) whether the firm was
sensitive to diversity among employees (O = no,
1 = yes), usually indicated by mentions of specific
initiatives. A rating of organizational adaptability
representad employer posture. Firms with a wide
variety of work schedules already in place, befare
reduced-load work carne along, were rated as
adaptable (O = no, 1 = yes).
The convergent and discriminant validity of the
paradigms was investigated in several ways. We
looked first for confirmatory patterns of organizational differences across paradigms on variables
not linked to the defining dimensions. Second, we
examined the distribution of individual cases
across paradigms. Finally, we examined individual
outcomes across paradigms for patterns consistent
with our conceptual formulation of differences between the paradigms.
RESULTS

As described above, in-depth examination of the


82 cases of reduced-load work in 42 different orga-

nizations led to an emergent theoretical framework


that captures important organization-level variation in responses to changing demographic characteristics of the workforce, as manifestad in employee requests for reduced-load work. The
organizational paradigms of implementation and
interpretation of reduced-load work uncovered in
the study indicate striking differences among organizations, and these differences have implications
for individuals as well as for firms.
Organizational Paradigms of Reduced-Load
Work
The terms accommodation, elaboration, and
transformation were chosen to represent organizational differences in the implementation and interpretation of reduced-load work, because they suggest different responses to an externa! stimulus and
different modes of learning. "Accommodation"
connotes a firm's making the most minimal adjustments in response to a request for a different way of
working. In organizational learning terms, it involves treating such a request as a random, nonstandard event not worth development of new rou-

December

tines. "Elaboration" suggests going further in


investigating and even developing new routines in
response to a new phenomenon, but without giving
up the basic, status qua way of organizing and
structuring work and careers. "Transformation" implies a company's greater willingness to move away
from the status qua and to actively use an external
stimulus, like a request for reduced-load work arrangements, asan opportunity to find new ways of
working. In organizationallearning terms, transformation involves more exploration and more acceptance of disruptive, nonroutine behavior. There
is an underlying assumption that the organizahan must adapt and realign itself continuously.
Reduced-load work arrangements become a springboard for thinking about new ways of defining and
organizing work or rethinking career paths and reward structures for a changing workforce.
Accommodation. In this paradigm, a very narrow
range of jobs was viewed as potentially doable on a
reduced-load basis, and the success of the arrangements was seen as depending on unusual circumstances, such as particularly talented individuals or
progressive bosses. Negotiations were either contentious or played out over a long period, and the
onus for making the arrangements work, for both
the company and the individual, was very clearly
solely on the individual workers who sought the
arrangements. The employer was described as reluctant, and the rationale for allowing reduced
workloads tended to focus either on the company's
desire to keep valued employees or on its desire to
get bargains by paying less for officially reducedload work but still achieve clase to 100 percent of
previous results because of the high level of competence and commitment of the workers. Even if
reduced-load work was described as highly successful, with consistently positive outcomes for
the employer and workers, the impression culled
from stakeholders was that reduced loads were
likely to have marginalizing effects on individual
careers. The employer posture was to try to contain and limit the spread of this different way of
working.
Elaboration. Another subset of cases was typically found in organizations with more formal policies that specifically supported alternativa work
arrangements anda well-articulated view that there
were concrete benefits to the firm of supporting
reduced-load work arrangements. For example, diversity goals often were viewed as more attainable
with customized work arrangements. Or reducedload work arrangements were considered a solution
to high turnover among experienced, highly competent midlevel women at midcareer. Interviewees
saw reduced workload arrangements as part of a

2000

Lee, MacDermid, and Buck

general trend for firms to try to diversify the kinds


of professional and managerial assignments available to meet increasing diversity among the talent
they wanted to attract and retain. There were mixed
opinions about what reduced-load status meant for
individual careers, but the assumption was clearly
that those working full-time would be atan advantage. The employer posture was to try to control
and systematize procedures for these experiments.
Transformation. In this organizational paradigm, reduced-load work arrangements were accepted almost matter-of-factly, with or without formal policies in place. They were viewed as a
normal part of trying to keep your best people or as
opportunities to learn how to adapt professional
jobs and managerial career paths to changing conditions in the global marketplace. The senior managers talked about fast-paced technological change
in their industries and the increased demand for
different kinds of work arrangements simply as typical examples of sources of variability to which
good managers should be able to respond effectively. Interviewees in these firms described company philosophies that were highly supportive of
adapting to change in general and of demonstrating
commitment to employees. For example, one firm
was well known for its commitment to developing
management potential through carefully orchestrated sequencing of work assignments and promotions, as well as through formal educational programs and mentoring support. Adapting to the need
of one of their "high potentials" to work less for a
while didn 't faze them, because they were paying
more attention to a higher-order goal-developing
the best and the brightest to prepare them for the
very top leadership positions in the long term. Another firm had incorporated reduced-load work
into its overall staffing strategy, once the top managers realized that their inflexibility was providing
their competitors with the means to lure away sorne
of their best employees at midcareer. These individuals had been trained and developed on the fast
track and had invaluable skills. But they wanted
more time with their families at a certain stage of
their lives and were willing to "jump ship" to get it.
So this firm revamped its career path structures to
create a place in-stream for those wanting to work
less for a while but not be removed from the fast
track. In both firms, the employer stance was to
experiment and learn.
Reliability and Validity of the Paradigms

Because qualitative researchers play an active


role in interpreting data, concerns are sometimes
expressed about the replicability of qualitative re-

1219

sults. We used discriminant function analysis as a


reliability check of our assignments of firms to paradigm categories.
Two discriminant functions were calculated,
only one of which was significant (x2 = 15.7, p <
.05); the function accounted for 69 percent of the
between-group variability. The analysis correctly
classified 70 percent of the organizations, at least
20 percent more than would be expected by chance
in each group: 57 percent of accommodation companies (compared to 18 percent by chance alone);
65 percent of the elaboration companies (compared
to 44 percent by chance); and 87 percent of the
transformation companies (compared to 39 percent
by chance). Five of the six predictor variables had
loadings between .34 and .68 on the significant
discriminant function; the exception was sensitivity to diversity, one of the ratings for the employer
rationale dimension. Specifically, the structure matrix included the following correlations between
analysis variables and the two discriminant functions: employee-centered values, .68 and - .17; formal policies, -.34 and -.18; business needs rationale, .51 and .68; sensitivity to diversity, -.06 and
.27; organizational adaptability, .51 and -.05; and
boss support for this arrangement, .34 and -.39.
To examine the validity of the paradigms, we
first looked for organizational differences on variables not linked to the key dimensions, beginning
with industrial sector. We expected to find firms in
the telecommunications and consulting sector to be
primarily in the transformation paradigm because
increased competition, fast-paced change, and labor shortages at the professionallevel were consistently mentioned themes in these sectors. Our reasoning was that the external challenges faced by
firms in these sectors would lead them to be more
responsive to requests by professional-level employees for alternative work arrangements. Indeed,
three of the five telecommunications firms were
classified as in the transformation group, and the
other two as in the elaboration group. However, the
three consulting firms were distributed across the
three paradigms.
We also looked for organizational differences
across paradigms in the percentages of women,
part-time employees, and unionized employees in
their workforces, but no significant differences
were found.
Finally, we looked at four individual outcome
variables, expecting to find relationships to the paradigms that were consistent with our overall theoretical framework. The first three outcome variables were the net benefit scores in the individual,
family, and organizational domains. We expected
to see higher net benefits in the transformation

1220

Academy of Management fournal

December

TABLE 5
Net Benefits of Individual Cases by Paradigma
Beneficiary of
Reduced Load

Accommodation

Elaboration

Transformation

pb

Organization
Mean
Range

3.9
-1 to +6

3.5
-5 to +6

3.7
-2 to +6

0.21

n.s.

Family
Mean
Range

2.9
- 4 to +6

3.2
-5 to +6

4.4
Oto 6

2.90

.10

Individual
Mean
Range

2.0
- 4 to +6

2.4
-5 to +6

3.4
Oto 6

2.20

.12

Respective n 's were 18, 31, 'and 35.


b df = 2, 81.

paradigm for individuals and families, because of


the "experiment and learn" employer posture and
because the target individuals would have greater
boss support. Table 5 shows that the data were
consistent with these expectations, although the
results ofF-tests did not reach significance (p < .10,
individual, and p < .12, family). For organizations,
we expected to find a higher mean score on net
benefits in the accommodation paradigm, because
we expected organizations' low commitment to reduced workload and their taking a low level of
responsibility for its success to keep costs to these
firms low. Means followed the expected pattern,
but the one-way analysis of variance was not significant.
The final outcome variable was the global success of the reduced-load arrangement. To examine
whether the paradigms were related to the ratings
of overall success described earlier, we conducted a
three (success group) by three (paradigm) chisquare analysis, achieving statistically significant
results (x2 4 = 9.9, p < .05). Because the low-success
group was very small, however, a third of the cells
in this chi-square analysis contained fewer than
five cases, which could have compromised the results. We eliminated the low-success group from
consideration and reran the chi-square test, which

TABLE 6
Cross-Tabulation of Organizational Paradigm
and Global Success
Global Success Group
Organizational
Paradigm
Accommodation
Elaboration
Transformation

Rating 1-4 Rating 5-6 Rating 7-9


2
3

9
9
7

19
29

still yielded a significant result (x2 2 = 6.1, p < .05).


Although only 42 percent of the accommodation
cases were placed in the high-success category, 61
percent of the elaboration and 81 percent of the
transformation cases were so classified. (Keep in
mind that individual interviewers assigned global
success ratings immediately following transcription of the interviews , but we performed paradigm
classifications much later.)

DISCUSSION
Three paradigms, accommodation, elaboration,
and transformation, were developed to represent
organizational differences in the implementation
and interpretation of reduced-load work arrangements. The emergent paradigms and the content of
the firm-level dimensions underlying them also
suggest that the way organizations respond to employee requests for reduced-load work is representative of more general organization-level variability
in responses to change in the external environment
or challenges to the status qua. More specifically,
the emergent paradigms can be viewed as representing firms' proclivity to engage in organizational
learning and to use individual cases of reducedload work as a means of experimentation. Research
on organizationallearning has stressed the need for
greater understanding of how organizations respond to the ongoing tension between continuity
and change and between the motives of exploitation of routines and exploration of disruptive, nonroutine behavior (Crossan et al. 1999; March, 1991;
Weick & Westley, 1996). In this light, the three
organizati anal paradigms of reduced -load work can
be viewed as representing firms arrayed along a
continuum between exploitation and exploration.
The paradigms illustrate ways that organizations

2000

Lee, MacDermd, and Buck

may differ in their attempts to cope with and respond to these competing motives, as manifested in
responses to requests for reduced-load work.
The accommodation firms' method of implementing and interpreting reduced-load work arrangements demonstrates high exploitation; the intent is to increase efficiencies and productivity and
continue established routines. Individual cases of
alternative work arrangements are treated as exceptions and as minar anomalies that can be dismissed
or, indeed, accommodated. The fact that requests
for reduced-load arrangements in these firms were
granted, rather than denied, provides evidence of
learning: the organizations recognized the value of
responding to changing needs and creating innovative work arrangements in arder to keep valued
employees. However, the approach of accommodation firms was generally to exploit this learning in
the individual instance, without transferring the
experience and tacit knowledge to other employees
or work groups. In fact , sorne of these firms worked
actively to make sure that reduced-load work arrangements remained secret, in fear that if news of
them spread, the logistics of managing exceptions
to the rule would become overwhelming. They responded to change but did not generate further
learning or change. In terms of the Crossan et al.
(1999) levels of organizational learning, the focus
in accommodation firms is at the individuallevel,
with individual work arrangements approved without intention or effort to make a "feed-forward"
shift (Crossan et al., 1999: 523-524) from learning
at an individual level toward integrating the pattern throughout work groups or institutionalizing it
at the level of the organization.
On the other end of this continuum of organizationallearning, transformation firms demonstrate a
high level of the exploration aspect of learning,
with reduced-load work requests greeted with
openness and as an opportunity for experimentation, even though such requests represent disruptive, nonroutine behavior and challenge the status
quo. Alternative work arrangements fit in with a
culture that already welcomes change and learning.
The continua! fine-tuning of reduced-load arrangements observed in firms following this paradigm is
consistent with organizationallearning characteristics of continuous updating and "intentional imbalance" (Weick & Westley, 1996: 443). Each experiment is a development toward possible new
experiments which generales continua! exploration
for adaptive and innovative processes.
In between the poles of accommodation and
transformation, elaboration firms try to balance the
exploration and exploitation aspects of organizationallearning by: (1) formally and officially allow-

1221

ing alternative work arrangements, and in doing so


being open to new ideas and establishing new routines and (2) institutionalizing and refining the new
routines in ways that increase efficiencies but also
inhibit further innovation or evolution. In Crossan
and colleagues' language, the elaboration firms
have demonstrated both initial exploration and
subsequent exploitation of effective new work arrangements and have arrived at the organizational
level of institutionalization of the policies and procedures related to reduced-load work. However,
organizational learning is a dynamic process, and
to maintain ongoing learning, there must be a feedback process that continually encourages new exploration at the individual or work-unit level. Such
dynamism is difficult to manage, because "the institutionalized learning (what has already been
learned) impedes the assimilation of new learning," and newly created policies "may no longer
apply in a changed [individual] circumstance"
(Crossan et al, 1999: 533). Elaboration firms seem to
be ones that have not (yet) achieved this ongoing
cycle of experimentation. Indeed, sorne employees
mentioned that as soon as official policies were
implemented, there was less opportunity for finetuning or for local customization of the work arrangements to best meet the needs of the employee
and work unit involved. The comment, "Don't get
rigid about flexibility," captures the inherent tension in organizational learning between exploitation and exploration that is represented in elaboration firms.
Organizations face the challenge of institutionalizing and exploiting the learning of individual
reduced-load arrangements in the form of policies
and procedures, on the one hand, and of encouraging variations on those very policies in the spirit of
continua! learning and innovation, on the other.
This challenge maps onto the essence of organizational learning as an ongoing, dynamic phenomenon that inherently involves a creative tension.
Weick and Westley claimed that organizational
learning is an oxymoron, because "organizing and
learning are essentially antithetical processes"
(1996: 440). March (1991) discussed the trade-offs
between the short-term stability of exploitation and
the uncertainty and risk of longer-term exploration.
Similarly, Brown and Duguid (2000) suggested that
organizations must simultaneously embrace the
structure of well-defined processes along with the
unpredictability and creativity of local practice
within organizations.
In the analyses of this study, the three organizational paradigms emerged from the identification of
four underlying dimensions that consistently differentiated the firms: negotiation context, responsi-

1222

Academy of Management Jo urna!

bility, employer rationale, and employer posture,


as outlined in the Methods and Results sections,
especially Table 4. The four underlying dimensions
offer a rationale for linking variation in firm-level
patterns and behaviors with organizational learning. These underlying dimensions suggest that the
exploration of new learning and spreading of learning beyond the local instance are more likely to
occur when: (1) the negotiation of a reduced-load
arrangement is guided by the needs of both an
individual situation and an organization's culture;
(2) the responsibility for making the arrangement
effective is shared by a target individual and a
senior manager, thus moving the organization beyond the individual level of learning (Crossan et
al., 1999); (3) the organization frames an individual
work arrangement in light of long-term business
needs such as adaptation to a changing workforce
or recruitment and retention (consistent with
Argyris and Schon [1978] and March [1991]); and
(4) the organization is open to reduced-load work
as being consistent with a more general encouragement of learning and improvisation, with a spirit
that "heightens the chance for threats to be recast as
opportunities" and in which "expressions that
seem not to fit with what is under way can be seen
as experiments from which people learn" (Weick &
Westley, 1996: 454).
Converging Theoretical Development
The management of alternative work arrangements has often been perceived as a benefits issue
and has been relegated to human resources departments, "where the problems are often dealt with
piecemeal" (Friedman et al., 1998: 119), because
work-life issues have often not been perceived as
fundamentally integrated into organizations' cultures and strategic decision making. Linking the
three organizational paradigms with a continuum
of organizational learning, however, demonstrates
that reduced-load work can play a critica} role in
organizational strategies of responsiveness to
change. This framing of reduced-load work is consistent with other recent theorizing identifying human resource issues, such as diversity management
(Robinson & Dechant, 1997; Thomas & Ely, 1996)
and work-life issues (Friedman et al., 1998; Rapoport & Bailyn, 1996), as strategic tools for responding to an organization's core business priorities.
Moreover, organizationallearning can be seen as a
theme unifying the present study and other recent
work, in that these human resource issues provide
opportunities for organizations to innovate by critically reexamining fundamental assumptions about
the way work is accomplished. This collective

December

body of work suggests a converging pattern of organizationallearning responses, ranging from reactions to individual situations to integration of
changes into a more systemic view of organizational adaptation.
In their examination of organizational policies
and programs related to managing diversity,
Thomas and Ely (1996: 85) proposed that approaches to dealing with greater diversity can be
captured by three distinct organizational paradigms: discrimination and fairness, access and legitimation, and learning and effectiveness. The discrimination and fairness approach focuses on the
assimilation of a demographically representative
workforce, with each individual being treated the
same. The intent is to maintain control and reduce
ambiguity stemming from differences, with
progress measured in terms of recruitment and retention, rather than in terms of effectiveness of
work. The access and legitimation approach heralds acceptance and celebration of differences, primarily because it makes business sense. Thus, decisions about diversity are made in response to
current externa} market conditions. Demographically different employees tend to be matched with
"their own kind" in important organizational constituencies , such as client groups. In this paradigm,
an organization embraces diversity but forgoes the
opportunity to learn from the different perspectives
of employees. In contrast, companies in the learning and effectiveness category focus on integration
of differences among employees and on actually
learning from them. This approach implies that
diverse employees affect the main work of an organization by introducing new ideas, expanding notions of what issues are relevant, and framing issues in new, creative ways.
Following somewhat similar lines , Rapoport and
Bailyn (1996) investigated variation among several
corporations' responses to the work and family
concerns of employees, and they distinguished between an individualistic and a more collective, integrated approach. The individualistic approach
involves addressing employee problems through
specific flexible work policies and individual
accommodations made possible through supportive managers. The collective approach uses workfamily issues "as a catalyst for creative, core innovations in work practices" (Rapoport & Bailyn,
1996: 19). Rapoport and Bailyn concluded that
when firms can link improving the way work gets
done, which is good for the business, with creating
more options for employees' pursuit of fulfilling
personal and work lives, then both parties benefit.
Similarly, Friedman, Christensen, and DeGroot's
(1998) discussion of management's responses to

2000

Lee, MacDermid, and Buck

work-life issues distinguishes three approaches: In


the "trade-off approach," business gain or personal
life wins, but not both. Thus, individual cases tend
to be accornmodated or managed in a way that
minimizes loss. In the "integrated approach," employees and managers work together to creatively
find ways to meet both their needs. And finally,
with the "leveraged approach," a company goes
further by finding ways that a work-life balance
among employees actually generates new value for
the business.
The range of organizational differences that
emerged in the present study of reduced-load work
among managers and professionals is consistent
with the variation among organizational responses
found by these other researchers, and all illustrate
variation in the extent of organizational learning.
For example, the accommodation paradigm is consistent with Thomas and Ely's first category and
Rapoport and Bailyn's individualistic approach, in
that policies are managed by exception. In these
different settings, learning is exploited in individual instances to maximize the benefit of recruiting
or retaining valuable employees. However, the intent to maximize individual benefit is accompanied
by the intent to minimize additional change,
thereby limiting the spread of knowledge to the
work-unit or organizational level (Crossan et al.,
1999). As Thomas and Ely commented, "Under this
paradigm, it is not desirable for diversification of
the workforce to influence the organization's work
or culture" (1996: 81), and Rapoport and Bailyn
posited that the individualistic approach precludes
core innovations in the way work is accomplished:
"Rather than spark change, flexibility at the margins actually undermines flexibility at the core"
(1996 : 19). Similarly, firms categorized as following
the accommodation paradigm in this study generally attempted to contain and control the spread of
alternative work arrangements.
The elaboration paradigm mirrors Thomas and
Ely's access and legitimacy paradigm because both
move beyond the exploitation of learning in individual cases to institutionalizing the value in organizational policies or practices. Elaboration firms
respond to labor conditions by officially supporting
alternative work arrangements, just as access and
legitimacy corporations respond to increased diversity in the global business environment by celebrating employee differences and matching the demographics of employees with key constituent groups.
In both cases, however, the process of learning
tends to stop with institutionalizing organizational
policies and practices, rather than continuing as
ongoing exploration of new possibilities.
Finally, the transformation paradigm is consis-

1223

tent with Thomas and Ely's learning and effectiveness paradigm, with the collective approach of
Rapoport and Bailyn, and with Friedman and colleagues' leveraged approach. Companies following
all these patterns make individual cases opportunities to reexamine core assumptions and fundamental ways of doing work. In institutionalizing
sorne learning, yet focusing on continual experimentation, these approaches are consistent with
Crossan and colleagues' proposition that organizations attain maximum learning by engaging in a
continuous cycle of feed-forward and feedback
processes, thus maintaining an ongoing creative
tension between exploitation and exploration, between continuity and change. Continual experimentation is fueled by the underlying belief that
the management of diversity or of alternative work
arrangements can shed light on more general processes involving creativity, strategic growth, adaptation to markets, and so forth. For example,
Thomas and Ely suggested that demographically
diverse employees "bring different, important, and
competitively relevant knowledge and perspectives
about how to actually do work- how to design
processes , reach goals, frame tasks, create effective
teams, communicate ideas, and lead" (1996: 80).
In an example of ongoing exploration, one of the
transformation firms in the present study was considering a proposal that all promotions above a
certain level become negotiated deals rather than
rigid offers with standard parameters, partly because different candidates for managerial positions
had priorities that differed widely, depending on
their family situations and financial needs and desires. For example, during certain points in their
lives, sorne managers want to limit travel or avoid
work involving time-sensitive deadlines. One executive suggested that firms should have a normal
distribution of kinds of jobs, differentiated in terms
of "necessary pain," or intrusiveness into personal
life, so that individuals could find or create what
suited them at different life stages. He suggested
that his employer was learning about the workplace
and workforce of future generations of men and
women, single and married, through the process of
negotiating reduced-load work now, mostly with
female professionals trying to juggle career and
family. In other words, the current situation of requests for reduced-load work was being used as an
opportunity to learn and to plan for a possible
future scenario of more idiosyncratic and customized job negotiations, and the implications that will
follow for employment relations.
The emergent paradigms of accornmodation,
elaboration, and transformation are consistent with
categories identified in other recent research

1224

Academy of Management fournal

(Friedman et al., 1998; Rappoport & Bailyn, 1996;


Thomas & Ely, 1996) in at least three ways. Fundamentally, they have all shown that tapies previously set aside as exclusively human 'resources issues, such as work-life issues or the management of
diversity, can be addressed at an organizational
level in a way that is essentially integrated with
general business strategy. Second, they have all
included a category (Thomas and Ely's learning
and effectiveness, Rapoport and Bailyn's collective
approach, Friedman et al.'s leveraged approach,
and our transformation paradigm) in which an organization's business priorities and individual employees' needs are both well served. Most importantly, the emergent categories of these studies are
relatively similar, spanning a continuum from
treating individual situations as isolated, perhaps
even disruptive, cases to be managed or accommodated as a necessary task, to treating these situations as opportunities for learning new ways of
working and new possibilities for core business
priorities.
Future Research Investigation

The data analyses and implications of this study


generate a number of testable propositions for future research. For example, implications linking
firms' responses to reduced-load work arrangements with organizationallearning could be examined more systematically. The interpretation of the
three organizational paradigms as spanning a continuum of exploitation and exploration suggests
that accommodation firms, relative to elaboration
and transformation firms, are likely to be more
reluctant to introduce human resource innovations
in response to the changing demographics of the
workforce. Star performers may continue to create
exceptional circumstances, or entrepreneurial
types may be able to identify the odd supportive
manager or unusual context. Consequently, accommodation firms are predicted to have smaller percentages of their professional and managerial workforces in alternative work arrangements than
elaboration or transformation firms, and the status
quo of professional and managerial work and careers will remain untouched.
The organizational learning continuum highlights a potential danger for elaboration firms: as
they allow and formalize new routines, the opportunities for reduced-load work may become too
rigid. If, for example, elaboration firms develop a
system for labeling jobs as doable or not doable on
less than full-time, two classes ofjobs may develop:
(1) those that can be customized to suit their incumbents, in dialogue with work units and in keep-

December

ing with policies, and (2) those that cannot. Career


advancement and ultimate leadership roles may be
reserved for those holding the latter type of jobs.
Over time, a ghetto of family-friendly positions
could develop as a result of company efforts to
identify exactly which jobs are available to those
wanting to work less than full-time. Individuals
could find their career ambitions foiled when they
choose flexible jobs, because the label on those jobs
sends a message to upper management that the
incumbents aren't really committed. Thomas and
Ely (1996: 84-85) outlined a parallel situation, suggesting that when access and legitimacy firms put
members of demographic minorities into matching
niche-market positions, these employees may feel
exploited and devalued, used for special purposes,
and limited in their ability to pursue other mainstream career opportunities within their organizations. Thus , elaboration firms, compared with
those following the other two paradigms, are predicted to provide more official options for and
more official access to alternative work arrangements; but, compared with transformation firms,
they will tend to lock in and routinize alternative
work arrangements. As a result, they inhibit the
process of organizational learning. Furthermore,
because formal policies can have an institutionalizing effect, elaboration firms may actually have
lower use of alternative work options than expected, because employees hesitate to be visibly
deviant and prefer to avoid the official labels that
accompany opting for a formal alternative work
arrangement. 1 Future research should examine
whether professionals and managers with reducedload work in elaboration firms find the costs of the
reduced loads higher from a personal career perspective than their counterparts in transformation
firms.
Reduced-load work arrangements in the transformation paradigm can be viewed as examples of
learning moments or "small wins," in Weick and
Westley's terms. In this paradigm, reduced-load
work can be seen more as a grassroots phenomenon, perhaps the kind of small win that precedes
and paves the way for a revolution in one organization and more systematic change in the structure
of professional and managerial work (see Myerson
and Fletcher [2000] for a similar discussion of the
power of modest, incremental gains to combat unintentional, often invisible, but systemic, forms of
gender inequity in organizations). A number of the

There was anecdotal evidence of this in several companies, but no systematic analysis was possible, as we
did not have the necessary data.

2000

Lee, MacDermid, and Buck

transformation cases were described in these terms,


as experiments undertaken because they made
sense to the key stakeholders at a particular time
and place. Then, subsequently, the experience of
the alternative work arrangement sparked an interest in, or initiation of, a different innovation, such
as increased use of teleworking, or the integration
of alternative work arrangements into the firm's
cutting-edge career development system. Transformation firms, then, might be predicted to have
more random, hard-to-track diffusion of alternative
work arrangements, as well as spontaneous appearances of new "strains," as the organizations continue to explore and learn. Researchers could more
systematically address to what extent experimentaHan with alternative work arrangements in transformation firms leads to substantive integration of
professional and managerial career structures into
both human resource systems and more general
business strategies.

Concluding Thoughts
In future research, investigators can further examine whether reduced-load work can be used as
an opportunity for organizational experimentation
and learning, as well as an opportunity for individual employees to pursue balance between their
work lives and personal lives. However, it is also
important to note that the accommodation, elaboration, and transformation paradigms we identify
here are not intended to represent a continuum of
more desirable and less desirable contexts for alternative work arrangements. On the contrary, we developed these paradigms to capture the contrasts in
implementation and interpretation we observed
and assumed that all three have advantages and
disadvantages. Indeed, each paradigm is a way of
dealing with the inherent trade-offs between
exploitation and exploration, between arder and
disorder, and between short-term priorities and
long-term challenges and, most generally, each represents a response to changing environments.
Therefore, all offer opportunities for more critica!
examination of changing career structures, of links
between specific job design decisions and strategic
objectives, and of possible, innovative responses.
The development of these organizational paradigms and the converging pattern of links between
human resource issues and a continuum of organizationallearning responses provide material for future investigations of the evolution of professional
and managerial careers in organizations.

1225

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Brown, J. S., & Duguid, P. 2000. Balancing act: How to
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Mary Dean Lee is an associate professor in the Faculty of
Management at McGill University. She received her
Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Yale University.
Her research interests include organizational learning,
the changing nature of work, managerial careers, and
work and family.
Shelley M. MacDermid is an associate professor of child
development and family studies and the director of the
Center for Families at Purdue University. She holds a
Ph.D. in human development and family studies from the
Pennsylvania State University. Her research focuses on
the links between work conditions and family life , with
special attention to organizational size and to work as a
context for adult development.
Michelle L. Buck is an assistant professor of organizational behavior at McGill University. She received her
Ph.D. in social psychology from Princeton University.
Her research interests include aspects of conflict management and negotiation, organizational learning, and
alternative work arrangements that are related to individual, group, or organizational transformation.