NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bloomberg LP has competed in delivering news and financial data over the past two decades by fostering a culture that pushes workers to their limits.
According to multiple media reports and accounts from current and former employees, the work place is intense and unusually demanding, compared with other jobs.
But soon, Bloomberg may mellow. Starting August 1, employees can request schedules better suited to their personal lives -- including flexible hours, a shorter work week and working from home, according to a Bloomberg document obtained by Reuters.
Such schedules are hardly unusual in Corporate America, but Bloomberg, which prides itself on being different, has not run itself like other multibillion-dollar companies.
That focus has powered meteoric growth at the business since its founding in the early 1980s. But it has bruised some current and former staff along the way due to what many have described as the high demand on their time.
The new work schedule system may be Bloomberg's first public acknowledgment of the need to accommodate an employee's personal life -- and that the changes would help the business.
The changes "ensure that with our growth, we will continue to be a creative and innovative place," spokeswoman Judith Czelusniak wrote in an e-mail, when asked about the new system.
Bloomberg employees contacted by Reuters declined to comment on the changes.
The shifting comes as Bloomberg prepares to defend itself against a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charging discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers.
The lawsuit accuses Bloomberg of discriminating against women by decreasing their pay, demoting them, diminishing their job duties and excluding them from other opportunities when they became pregnant and when they returned from maternity leave.
Some women were told, "You are not committed," and "You do not want to be here" because of new demands on their time as parents, according to the suit.
The suit, filed in September, includes more than 70 current and former female Bloomberg employees. The number of people eligible for the lawsuit could rise to near 500, said Raechel Adams, an EEOC senior trial attorney.
Czelusniak declined to comment on further specifics of the lawsuit. Bloomberg has previously denied the charges in the lawsuit.
Barring a settlement, the case likely will not go to trial until 2009 as the EEOC and Bloomberg gather evidence during the discovery process, Adams said.
She declined to say whether she thought there was a connection between the flexible work arrangement, as Bloomberg calls the changes, and the lawsuit.
Changing the workplace policy probably has more to do with problems the company discovered after being sued, according to Stanford Law School Professor Deborah Rhode.
"Oftentimes what emerges from a lawsuit are symptoms of broader structural problems in company policies regarding part-time workplace flexibility," she said. "There's ample evidence to suggest that for both men and women they're absolutely right about the benefits of increased flexibility."
Senior Bloomberg executives, including top news editor Matt Winkler and Chairman Peter Grauer, declined to comment.
Bloomberg, whose namesake terminal provides news, data and financial analysis, revealed the changes to employees on July 9 as part of a wider plan to revamp the business.
"Plan B" also involves restructuring the news operation, creating a unit to explore new investments, a new incentive plan and realigning the sales force.
The changes come as financial markets that provide most of Bloomberg's revenue suffer through a wider economic crisis and as it tussles for supremacy in financial data and news with Thomson Reuters Corp (TRI.TO)TRIL.L.
In the 28-page booklet given to employees, Bloomberg says it recognizes that formal or ad hoc flexible working arrangements may be necessary.
The initiative "reflects our belief that flexible working practices can help employees sustain high performance over the long term, as well as strengthen our business results," the company said.
The new policy may represent a softening, if not a reversal, of the belief in some newsrooms, including Bloomberg's, that news is a 24-hour, 365-day profession that requires commitment beyond the normal workday.
"Weekends and holidays that don't fall within the vacation require our attention, if not as much time as the work day," says the 1998 edition of The Bloomberg Way, a style guide for the company's reporters and editors.
"No reporter will amount to much if he can't call somebody with great knowledge of the beat on Christmas Eve, Saturday night or some other occasion when the people on the beat aren't at work," it says.
(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)