One of my favourite conversations of 2019 was with Helen Fazzino, Managing Partner for our PwC Australia partnership. What stuck with me was her story – and experience – of what we’ve dubbed the ‘flex walk of shame.’
This ‘walk of shame’ is one that working parents and carers can experience while working flexibly in their organisation. The impact is huge. In addition to the stress that comes with getting our little people to early learning centres, kinder and school, the judgment we anticipate from our workplaces adds a whole other degree of unnecessary stress.
Flexibility has long been been accepted as critical to achieving core business outcomes, including attraction & retention of talent, improved mental health, reduced stress, greater productivity and less conflict when it comes to balancing career and family. However, many of you continue to share that you feel judged for accessing flexibility.
Of course its no longer just women who are having problems when it comes to flexible work schedules – it’s just as likely to be men, millennials or perennials – those who are working not just into their 50s but well into their 60s and 70s.
Interestingly, Anne-Marie Slaughter – whose seminal article on why “Women Still Can’t Have it All” caused global waves when it was published, was surprised by the number of millennial men writing to her – complaining that they are viewed as weak and harassed if they prioritise family over corporate work.
In a world that is increasingly connected, at a time when global businesses run 24/7, when technology means that teams can collaborate effectively even when they are far apart in both distance and time, we might expect flexible working would be the norm.
Far from it. And you’re not imagining the shame you might be experiencing for accessing flexible work practices, for flexibility stigma can be very real. There can be a temptation to blame managers for the stigma, but in truth, we all have a role to play, because culture involves each and every one of us. So how do we manage?
Here are three ways you can shift the flexibility stigma this year, or as we like to say, nudge the flex grudge.
1. Own your flexible work arrangement. If you’re working remotely for example, take the stigma away by proactively calling your boss and team members regularly throughout the day. This overcomes any existing bias that not being visible means you’re not present or you’re unavailable for work. And if you’re leaving ‘early’ or arriving ‘late’ (whatever early/late is in a truly flexible environment!), own it – arrive and leave loudly.
2. Get clear on the business benefits of your flexible work arrangement. Not just for you but for the business and your team, and regularly share your work wins and ambitions. Just because you might be entitled to flexibility doesn’t mean you don’t still have a responsibility to contribute to the cultural change required to normalise it. Language matters when you’re seeking to bring other people on the journey with you. So start with understanding the business case for flexibility, think through potential biases of your stakeholders, then consider how you want your team to feel about you and your flex arrangement and communicate with grace and gratitude.
3. Flexibility works best when considered in light of the team outputs. Managers often bemoan flexibility because they approve on an individual by individual basis, without reallocating the overflow, which directly impacts their own workloads. Part of a responsible management of flexible work arrangements is ensuring your role is redesigned, your manager and peers are not over-burdened, and your flexible work arrangement supports the team’s outcomes.