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5 things women need to tell men about flexible work

This was the title of my first article published in the launch edition of Women’s Agenda and I think it’s a great starting place for change.  Flexibility: it’s the new f-word. Ask any working mum what matters
most to them in a job, and she’ll probably say flexible work
arrangements.  But don’t mistake flexibility for a women’s issue: it matters just as
much to a worker who has elder care responsibilities. And to dads who
expect to play an active parenting role. And to members of GenY and the
forthcoming GenZ who know little of workplaces without flexibility.

But here’s the thing: the vast majority of Australian workplaces are
still run by men, and in the top jobs those men still mostly have stay
at home partners to keep the home fires burning, and very little concept
of just how critical flexibility is to the rest of us.

So how can you bridge this knowledge gap? You can start by telling men the following five things.

  1. The world is changing, and roles are changing. That women can’t have it all is an old story that’s been given new life in the recent article
    by former Whitehouse advisor Anne-Marie Slaughter. But here’s the
    thing: men don’t have it all either. Many men are seeking more
    flexibility in the workplace so they can be involved in the day to day
    care of their children but either aren’t offered it, or are afraid to ask for it because of unsupportive workplace cultures and the fear it will harm their future career prospects.
  2. Leadership attitudes matter most. Flexibility
    doesn’t have to mean setting up remote working arrangements, or tailored
    working hours (though it could). Often what matters most is the
    leader’s attitude – and how the leader responds – when life’s
    emergencies arise. It’s about being able to call in with complete
    honesty and transparency, and without fear of retribution, to say you’ll
    be in a little later or need to leave a little earlier. And a level of
    mutual trust, concern and respect.
  3. It can work, if you let it. Irrespective of
    different roles, industries and sectors, employees have a vested
    interest to make flexibility work, and given half the chance they will.
    Think your business is different and doesn’t lend itself to flexibility?
    Think again: if a job can be performed by someone else when the
    incumbent is on leave of any sort at all – annual leave, sick leave,
    long service leave etc – then it has the potential to be performed
    flexibly or remotely, on reduced hours or on job share arrangements.
  4. Clients value outcomes over hours, and employers should too.
    Provided their needs are met, most clients accept flexibility because
    it’s part of their life too. Working longer hours won’t guarantee a more
    committed workforce, but it will surely be a more expensive one. Just
    as extended operating hours or more time billed won’t guarantee a better
    customer outcome, but it will surely be a more expensive one. Now, more
    than ever, is a great time to address client needs and to allocate
    remuneration – including bonus pools – on the basis of return on
    investment and not on the basis of outdated models of workplace
    performance, like who is first in of a morning or last out at night.
  5. Recognise the hot spots and offer some breathing space.
    Be aware that 8am is an impossible meeting time for anyone juggling
    morning drop offs; and yet I’m amazed how many business meetings are
    still scheduled at this time. Likewise the 5pm-8pm timeslot is the most
    precious time of day for many working parents, so consider it a no-go
    zone (even Sheryl Sandberg
    famously leaves the Facebook in time for dinner!) So let them start
    work earlier or log on later – but don’t make them choose, or they just
    might not choose you. And while the Fair Work Act
    gives parents the right to request flexibility while their kids are of
    pre-school age, it’s once school starts and the long day care hours
    shrink into shorter school days, with a mammoth 13 weeks of school
    holidays, that the real challenge begins. Add to that increasing elder
    care responsibility as our population ages, and a Sandwich Generation
    caring for younger and older family members, and you’re just starting to
    get the picture. Like it or lump it, this is the reality of the modern
    world; and offering flexible solutions brings with it an opportunity to
    develop a committed, loyal, efficient and productive workforce.

What does flexible work mean to you? Freedom, a source of tension in the office, or just the way work should be?

This article was first published on Women’s Agenda.

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