Flexibility – it needs a why


Corporate Australia has well and truly adopted the flexible work model for one cohort of employees: working mothers, but how does adopting workplace flexibility continue to penalise mothers?

Corporate Australia has well and truly adopted the flexible work model for one cohort of employees: working mothers. It is acceptable – and even expected – that most women will return to work after maternity leave utilising flexible work arrangements. Unfortunately, the same progressive workplaces also continue to penalise that cohort for adopting flexible work arrangements by guaranteeing their careers won’t progress. And that sends a powerful message to the other cohorts: working flexibly will stagnate your career. So how do we get around it? Firstly – and not surprisingly – we need to expand flexibility to other cohorts. Sounds simple, right? Not so much. While on the one hand the business case certainly supports the expansion of flexible arrangements – more productive, improves cash-flow, reduced absenteeism, etc – on the flip side, why would employees take it up when it gives them less pay and less power.

We need to focus on selling the “why” to employees of all cohorts. So when you look for another cohort to work with, why not start with new fathers, and meet them where they are at.  Most new fathers won’t take 3 months paid paternity leave, even if your policies allow them to do so: its perceived to be career suicide. But they might well work 4 days a week, or compressed hours, for 3 months, provided that it is hooked to supporting their partner to return to work. And within that time, several benefits then flow: the next generation of leaders have worked flexibly; fathers bond with their babies and (hopefully) assume the domestic responsibilities for that day; and mothers are more likely to commence their return to work earlier if they can leave their baby with a partner.

Of course, that might just be the beginning too…once fathers have had a taste of 1:1 time with their baby and see the difference it makes to their family, and not just from a childcare perspective –  a study by the U.S. Department of Education found that children of highly involved fathers were 43 percent more likely than other children to earn mostly ‘A’s academically, while another study by Brigham Young University researchers finds that involvement in everyday activities, such as eating dinner together, watching TV, playing in the garden, are even more important to share with Dad than big outings or trips, although those contribute to children’s development as well.

As Julie Koffman, Partner at Bain & Co. points out, “Good flex work models start with carefully tailoring job requirements to the various age and career-goal segments of a company’s talent pool. The result goes directly to the bottom line in tangible and intangible ways. The immediate payoff is increased employee satisfaction levels. Very soon, those translate into greater loyalty and ultimately into superior performance and better results.”

You can read her full article Flexible work models: How to bring sustainability to a 24/7 world – here.