ROWE – the future of the work-life balance?


It is apparent that many women find the work environment to be a hostile place. Stories abound about women being asked all manners of inappropriate questions in interviews, such as if they have children, do they plan on having children, what does their husband think of their career, etc. Employers want assurance that work will come above all else, and an employee must commit to that work ethic or else.

For mothers of small children, this approach is particularly problematic. As we know, children are unpredictable. They can get sick, they can have vacations, and they may just want and need attention. All of this demands time and understanding, something rare in the workplace.

Many newspapers have reported about the high-power career women who have left their jobs to pursue a career in caring for their children. But do they do this out of will, or because they feel that they are forced out?

Of course, it is not only women that seek a better balance between family and work. Many men also would like to have more time to spend with their families and children.

The ROWE approach – Results Only Work Environment

Self-employment is one option for those seeking greater flexibility in their jobs. But self-employment is not for everyone, and many prefer the security of a monthly paycheck.

The answer (possibly): ROWE – Results Only Work Environment. This is an experiment that has been implemented by Best Buy, whereby bosses have no say in scheduling and can only judge employees by tasks successfully completed. So workers can work when and were they want, as long as they fulfill their responsibilities. This “experiment” has been in place for five years, and Best Buy reports that employee productivity has increased an average of 35% in departments covered by the program.

This plan not only increases productivity, but also saves them money:

“The per-employee cost of turnover is $102,000, and ROWE teams have 3.2 percent less voluntary turnover than non-ROWE teams. So once Best Buy’s 4,000-person headquarters is completely converted to ROWE, the company stands to save about $13 million a year in replacement costs.”

I can personally attest to the ridiculousness of time-based employment. In one of my first jobs, I was employed as an editor for 20 hours a week, and up to 40 depending on the workload. I was completing the editing work in 5 hours. To fill up the remaining 15, I offered to take on other tasks. I ended up reorganizing their library and became their “librarian”, helped the bookkeeper with her backlog, and I even started working for another department doing research and improved their client-communication material. Not to mention that I worked with them on writing their brochure, and managed the project for improving their CRM system. But when the end of the year came, they saw that I was missing many hours because often I would come in a half hour late or leave a bit earlier because of my kids – this adds up over a year. They didn’t care that I was doing three times the amount of work, and made me pay for my missing hours. Some of you may think this is totally fair on their part, but I felt very unappreciated (and soon left to more appreciative pastures).

The conventional time-based work environment penalizes those who are efficient. It may even encourage people to waste time – why should they fulfill a task in one hour if it means they will only get recognition for one hour of work? Better to drag it across three hours, and make the boss happy.
Will companies begin to adopt ROWE? I don’t think so, at least not in the foreseeable future. It’s hard to get executives to wrap their heads around this new way of thinking. But at least there’s hope on the horizon!