Glossary: HR & Recruiting Definitions
Downshifting refers to the voluntary, strategic career move to purposefully slow or scale down one’s professional advancement by reducing their workload and working hours with the goal of improving their work-life balance. This involves consciously accepting a salary reduction.
Downshifting can be a better alternative to resignation and is steadily gaining popularity among both professionals and managers of all ages.
The reasons why employees decide on downshifting as a career move vary and are independent of age. However, three reasons are heard particularly often:
Many older employees use this option as a kind of early retirement. Older downshifters usually change their full-time job into a part-time one because their values have changed.
Their time of trying to climb the career ladder, as they did in their younger years, is behind them. Instead, they may prefer to devote more time to their hobbies, their health, or their families and grandchildren without having to give up their regular income entirely.
In the past, a pension without deductions was guaranteed from the age of 65. Today, this is at best a nice dream for future retirees. Generations X, Y, and Z in particular may have to manage without one, which will likely make downshifting an even more popular early retirement option in the future.
Downshifting certainly isn’t just for soon-to-be retirees. Young employees, too, are deciding with increasing frequency to shift down a gear at work.
Often, the younger downshifters are specialists and managers who are dissatisfied and/or stressed with their professional situation. This often goes hand in hand with overworking and being on the verge of burnout. The higher the position on the career ladder, the greater the pressure and stress on the shoulders of those affected.
In this case, downshifting is used to make a professional situation that is no longer bearable bearable again. It can help minimise health risks and improve overall health, which in turn helps the employee emerge stronger from such a crisis without necessarily having to change employers.
Similarly, family planning is a common reason among younger employees and a good argument for downshifting, as it makes family and work more compatible. Managing a family is often practically a full-time job on its own, which requires excellent time management and budget management skills as well. However, quitting their job and giving up their entire income is not an option these days.
This double burden of having a child and a job can quickly push parents to reach their limits. Reducing working hours enables young downshifters to manage their family plans much better.
With downshifting, both the working hours and the working days per week can be reduced. Overall, this step offers attractive advantages for both employers and employees:
Benefits for employers:
If companies show empathy and understanding for the situation of their employees, and the will to support them through downshifting, it shows they care for and value their employees. This increases the likelihood that the employee will stay with the company in the long term because they feel appreciated and recognised. As a result, vacancies that have to be filled at high costs are less likely to open up (= lower employee turnover).
Benefits for employees:
For example, if the daily working time is reduced by downshifting from eight to six hours the team member concerned regains valuable time. This extra spare time during the day ensures a better balance between work and leisure.
So basically, downshifting aims to improve the work-life balance. However, there are other options aside from downshifting that achieve a similar effect but make changing employers or reducing hours and income unnecessary:
However, the problem cannot always be solved with the help of these alternatives. Whether they are suitable must always be decided on a case-by-case basis. Also, these alternative proposals should be introduced with caution, as they can be interpreted as a negative reaction to employees.
Whoever says A must also say B. And indeed, the concept of downshifting also offers a few potential stumbling blocks for employees, which is why taking this step should really be well thought through.
Regardless of whether alternatives are discussed or not, companies should be able to advise and support their employees in the search for a joint solution. This includes informing them about these potential stumbling blocks:
It is important that companies show potential downshifters a desire to keep them in the organisation, that they prioritise their well-being, and that they act in a solution-oriented way. This is because employees may misinterpret these points as leverage against downshifting.
Another attractive option may be to proactively offer downshifting as an employee benefit. Employee benefits that promote work-life balance, e.g. sabbaticals, paternity leave, unlimited holidays, etc., are generally in high demand with employees.
And since research has shown that the human brain can only concentrate for a maximum of 4-6 hours a day, employees are even increasingly demanding solutions such as the 6-hour working day or the 4-day week with the same salary.
Openness and willingness to grant such a benefit without employees having to ask for it themselves can have a very positive impact on a company’s image and be useful in strengthening its employer branding.
Companies that already offer the reduced hours or 4-day workweeks as a company-wide working time model (this includes companies like Shopify and Microsoft) enjoy great popularity and also gain strong advantages in terms of their talent acquisition.
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