Is it possible to lead a well-balanced life and reach our career goals? Judging by the lack of flexible opportunities the higher up in an organisation you go… and the gender imbalance, on the face it seems not in the majority of cases.
What is really exciting is that we’re in the midst of a cultural and social shift where businesses and individuals are starting to look at work differently. But what’s needed is a change in mindset, for jobs as we know them to be re-designed and re-shaped and for leaders to demonstrate that progression into more senior roles whilst working in a flexible way is possible.
Implementing Flexible Working in your business
- Job design – reshape roles to enable remote work
Job design is crucial to ensure that jobs are suited to workers, outputs are set and reached, and barriers to effective flexible working are brought down. This will better support both parents’ progression at work and will tackle the ‘parenthood penalty’ incurred when parents can’t put in the extra hours required by poorly designed jobs without compromising their wellbeing. Likewise, with individuals that have other commitments outside the workplace.
Support from the workplace with policies that encourage shared parental leave for example, enables fathers to do things differently and challenges gendered ideas about who cares for the children as well as allowing for both parents to continue to progress in their careers. Policies providing extended paternity leave encourage fathers to take on the role of primary care giver. With more organisations willing to adopt these policies, the career playing field is levelled, these workplaces will outperform others in terms of retaining great people and this will set expectations for more organisations to follow suit.
The UK is ahead of the game from a flexible working standpoint – according to the Working Families 2019 Index, 49% of parents worked flexibly: 47% fathers and 51% mothers. However, with evidence that higher-level jobs continue to lack flexibility – 10% of respondents had deliberately downshifted to lower level jobs in order to provide flexibility that they desired from their jobs. 58% – 51% of fathers and 68% of mothers – said they intended to stay in their existing job over the next two years. One reason for this was a lack of flexible opportunities in the job market, leading to parents – especially women – not seeking opportunities for advancement.
- Leadership Roles
Once support systems are established, and barriers are removed, for a workplace to succeed in becoming truly flexible it needs to have the support of your executive leadership team. Establishing flexibility as a norm will be much easier if your senior leaders role model flexible working to the rest of the organisation. This challenges employers to make sure that flexibility is visible at the top of the organisation and staff are aware of how these leaders progressed into senior roles while working flexible hours. Role modeling can change expectations and develop a culture where people have a flexible mindset. This will make it easier to embed a different way of working.
Embedding Flexible Working in your business: Lead by example
I recently came across an article on globalwomen.org.nz with a great example of how role modelling breeds a successful flexible working strategy and allows people to see that it can work for their career so I thought it would be valuable to share: When returning to work from maternity leave, Erin Venter, senior manager at PwC, returned to work in a part-time capacity but found that she was delivering a full time role and being paid for her part-time hours. With support from a female partner, she raised this with PwC and in response they changed her arrangement to a flexible role.
“Over time, with recruiting, all the great candidates we came across happened to be mums coming back into the workforce – and in our area, it’s really hard to find experienced people. If you get to have a great person for three days a week, to us it is much better than a poor performer five days a week. Also, for most of our team, the ability to work either part-time or flexible hours was paramount and therefore they wouldn’t have taken the job with us if we had only offered full-time.” She also mentioned that she was lucky enough to have 3 senior role models while she worked in the UK who worked flexible hours. “The concept seemed well advanced in the UK. They were promoted to partner even though they were working flexibly or part-time. So I never thought flexible working in this environment was a big deal because I’d seen it work. Erin is now a Partner at PwC which is a testament to PwC as a company and the role models that work within it.
Don’t be afraid to request a Flexible Work Arrangement
Individuals need to be inspired and empowered to make flexible working work for them while reaching their career goals. All employees who have a reason for needing flexible working arrangements can benefit, regardless of whether they have children or not.
It’s about having the self-confidence to ask for flexibility, safe in the knowledge of the value you provide to an organisation, regardless of the work structure or set up. It’s also about taking control of your career and setting realistic expectations for yourself.
Taking steps to change the way work works, and allowing our senior leaders to empower the organisation is the key to future success for business and individuals. If you’d like to know more about how to get started, or you need to outsource HR in your business feel free to contact us at Freerange Works.