Dutch women have long been known for their part-time work schedules — but now men are jumping on the bandwagon too. Could the Netherlands provide a template for killing the 9-to-5?
Back in November, we wrote about women's light work schedules and the trade-offs that can result — from financial dependence on a male partner to inability to afford decent housing. But part-time work isn't just a women's issue in the Netherlands — according to Katrin Bennhold of the Times, it's on the rise among men. One in three Dutch guys now work part-time or a four-day week, and the term "daddy day" has gained popularity. Says Bennhold, "for a growing group of younger professionals, the appetite for a shorter, a more flexible workweek appears to be spreading, with implications for everything from gender identity to rush-hour traffic." Even jobs considered synonymous with long hours in the US — like surgery — are now sometimes done by a collection of part-timers.
Women are still far more likely to work part-time than men, and the gender wage gap is wide. And those who do want to work full-time may face judgment — there's a widespread perception that children should spend no more than three days a week in day-care. The Dutch workplace may not be a model of women's empowerment, but increasingly, it does seem to be proof that the 9-to-5 way of doing things isn't the only one. Bennhold mentions a male insurance exec who works full-time but still gets to have breakfast and dinner with his family — and play soccer on Wednesday afternoons. He says, "I work from home in the mornings and travel to work when the roads are clear." And a mom who works at Microsoft's Dutch headquarters was able to go back to full-time when her company instituted flexible work hours and location.
Some US companies have been experimenting with flexible hours and work-from-home days in an effort to retain working moms. But the prevailing wisdom here still seems to be that a successful economy depends on most employees working a fixed full-time schedule — or, frequently, more than full-time. It's true that the US is not the Netherlands — we're a larger, more heterogeneous country with a "porous safety net." But the fact that surgeons and executives can work part-time and flexible hours suggests that the common American wisdom that certain jobs must be done exactly the way Americans currently do them may be inaccurate. In this country, we've established a system where people all the way up and down the income scale have little time for their children, or for basic activities like cooking and exercising. And while Dutch workers may not have all the answers for us, their example does show that it doesn't have to be this way.
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