Saturday, January 08, 2011

Dutch Work-Time in the New York Times

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times had a very favorable article about Dutch work-time policy, saying "The Dutch culture of part-time work provides an advance peek at the challenges - and potential solutions - that other nations will face as well in an era of a rapidly changing work force."

But the article did not mention the environmental implications of part-time work - which I would say is the number-one blindspot of contemporary politics. When this sort of article says that the Dutch culture of part-time work provides an advance peak at the potential solutions to an era of global warming and scarce resources, then change will come

Some excerpts from the article are below. The full article is available at

Working (Part-Time) in the 21st Century

UTRECHT, NETHERLANDS — Remco Vermaire is ambitious and, at 37, the youngest partner in his law firm. His banker clients expect him on call constantly — except on Fridays, when he looks after his two children.

Fourteen of the 33 lawyers in Mr. Vermaire’s firm work part time, as do many of their high-powered spouses. Some clients work part time, too.

“Working four days a week is now the rule rather than the exception among my friends,” said Mr. Vermaire, the first man in his firm to take a “daddy day” in 2006. Within a year, all the other male lawyers with small children had followed suit.

For reasons that blend tradition and modernity, three in four working Dutch women work part time. Female-dominated sectors like health and education operate almost entirely on job-sharing as even childless women and mothers of grown children trade income for time off. That has exacted an enduring price on women’s financial independence.

But in just a few years, part-time work has ceased being the prerogative of woman with little career ambition, and become a powerful tool to attract and retain talent — male and female — in a competitive Dutch labor market.

Indeed, 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.

There are part-time surgeons, part-time managers and part-time engineers. From Microsoft to the Dutch Economics Ministry, offices have moved into “flex-buildings,” where the number of work spaces are far fewer than the staff who come and go on schedules tailored around their needs.

The Dutch culture of part-time work provides an advance peek at the challenges — and potential solutions — that other nations will face as well in an era of a rapidly changing work force.

“Our part-time experience has taught us that you can organize work in a rhythm other than nine-to-five,” said Pia Dijkstra, a member of Parliament and well-known former news anchor who led a task force on how to encourage women to work more. “The next generation,” she added, is “turning our part-time culture from a weakness into a strength.”
Seventy-five percent of Dutch women now work part time, compared to 41 percent in other European Union countries and 23 percent in the United States, according to Saskia Keuzenkamp at the Netherlands Institute for Social Research. Twenty-three percent of Dutch men have reduced hours, compared to 10 percent across the European Union and in the United States; another nine percent work a full week in four days.

When Jan Henk van der Velden, one of Mr. Vermaire’s law firm partners, joined 21 years ago, there were no female partners and no man would have dared ask to work part time. Today, six of the nine partners do. It works because the lawyers are flexible — when Mr. Vermaire has a court hearing on a Friday, for example, he swaps with his wife, who is normally off Mondays.

Of the 85 specialists at the Ziekenhuis Amstelland hospital south of Amsterdam, 31 are female and two-thirds work part time. Some surgeons even train part time, meaning a daily struggle to unify treatment of patients by several doctors.

“This would have been unthinkable even 10 years ago,” said Jacques Moors, the hospital’s chairman. “But if we insisted on full-time surgeons we would have a personnel problem: Three in four of our junior doctors are female.”

In male-dominated fields, the picture is more mixed. After Martina Dopper, a civil engineer at the company Ballast Nedam, requested a three-day week in 2007, she was given to understand that part time meant no promotion.

This month, however, she was promoted. “I hope this means more of my male colleagues will get an opportunity to spend more time with their families,” she said. So far, her own husband, also an engineer, does not dare for fear of jeopardizing his career.

Dutch fathers are becoming more vocal. A crop of recent books and Web sites advise men on combining career with family. Last year, a women’s magazine, Lof, set up the “Working Dad Prize,” which went to a man who won a court case against his employer enforcing his right to work part time.

The government awarded its own “Modern Man Prize” for breaking gender stereotypes. Rutger Groot Wassink won for co-founding a campaign that promotes part-time work for men — and for working four days a week himself. “Men have been excluded from this debate for too long,” said Mr. Wassink, noting a poll showing that 65 percent of Dutch fathers would like to work less.
96 percent of Dutch part timers tell pollsters they do not want to work more; the Netherlands is that rare country where — even taking housework and child care into account — women work less than men.

see the complete article at


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