Alternatively Structured Roles and the Baby Boomer Workforce

Much has been written and discussed about the social sector’s leadership gap, as well as the potential for retiring Baby Boomers from other sectors to play a role in addressing the growing need for talent.  In reality, however, many organizations are slow to recruit and hire from this seasoned workforce, and in those instances when they do, are seemingly meeting with mixed success.

At Commongood Careers, we have seen that many of these barriers and challenges can be related to a lack of sufficient forethought about the experience, nature, lifestyle and motivation of Baby Boomer professionals.  It is difficult to make generalizations about an entire generation, but it is fairly self-evident that recruiting and employing a 60 year old former corporate businessperson is likely to be fundamentally different than doing so with a 25 year old recent business school graduate.

One set of possibilities that is often overlooked in nonprofit employment is “alternatively structured” roles.  These positions may involve flexible hours, working remotely, part-time commitments, or consulting arrangements.  Such non-traditional roles may include some of the following attributes and benefits:

(1) Alternative location arrangements can have employees based fully off-site or working from another place on some days and from the office on other days.  People may be based from home, from their office at another part-time job, from the library or a coffee shop, or from a rented desk within an organization in another city.  Alternative location arrangements may open-up the possibilities of a national talent pool for any role that can be performed outside of headquarters or simply permit those with home-based responsibilities or limited mobility to still play an important role.

(2) Flexible full-time schedules are considered as anything except for 9-5 and may allow some employees to work 12-8 every day while others work 40 hours a week all packed into four or even three business days.  Some employees may work full weekends and half-days during the rest of the week.  These schedules may allow for childcare responsibilities (with children or grandchildren), other out-of-office commitments, or those who require flexibility for other reasons.

(3) Part-time roles are most commonly thought of as 2-3 day per week commitments, but can also include working just half-days everyday or even working full-time during a part of the year while taking unpaid leave for the remainder of the year as teachers do or those who spend summers or winters at second homes in other regions.  These possibilities depend heavily on the nature of the role’s responsibility and the seasonality of the organization’s work, but may also open some intriguing possibilities for organizations to fill roles during periods of high-demand while saving money on an employee’s line item in the budget during quieter times.

(4) Consulting relationships are also most frequently associated with a limited scope of project-based roles that are farmed out to professional consultants or firms, but they can also be thought of as another form of part-time roles.  Structured non-employee relationships can be applied to almost any back-office function and can allow for more flexibility in staffing up and down within an area.  In difficult economic times, these relationships may also serve as attractive alternatives to making a full-time commitment with benefits to an employee.  As with all of these options, however, organizations should consult applicable state and federal employment regulations to ensure that they are in compliance in structuring alternative roles.

With most of the sector having an underdeveloped HR function, many organizations dismiss such possibilities as being too difficult to structure, quality control or manage.  Others find that individuals pursuing these opportunities may not exhibit the same levels of commitment, passion or cultural fit for which they are used to searching.  Short-term thinking in this area, however, overlooks numerous possibilities and may close the door on valuable talent groups like Baby Boom second career seekers. 

Particularly for Baby Boomer careerists, in fact, alternatively structured roles may present attractive opportunities because of the stage that they have reached in their careers and the lifestyle choices that they are balancing.  These roles many also allow organizations to tap into the experience and talent of such individuals, without struggling as much to support the salary needs of a senior professional or to ensure the same level of cultural fit with an employee who may be more of a demographic outlier than the norm.  With some planning and flexibility, these employment vehicles can present win-win opportunities for nonprofits and Baby Boomer career seekers alike.