In the world today, dealing with an ageing workforce and the dire war for talent; flexibility, we’re told, is the way forward. Only by making the workplace accessible to those who have other commitments, will we be successful in addressing talent shortages.
But what does it actually mean to offer flexibility? And what really makes a key difference to an employee who might benefit from flexible work practices?
Me? Well, I’m a mum first. I have two kids, and they’re little, and they want and need a lot of my time right now. I know this time will pass, but for now it feels like a vacuum of attending to their needs and there is little free time for anything else.
But, I also work full time. Partly because need dictates. I live in Auckland at a time where I need to work to pay the mortgage. The Auckland North house-price-to-income multiple has crossed over the 10.0 mark as compared with around the 3.0s in the early 1980s. It’s no wonder I’m struggling to keep up with my parents at the same age and stage! But at the same time I WANT to work. Work gives me purpose. Work teaches my children that money is earned and allows us to buy the things we’d like and the things we need. Work also gives me balance and refreshes me to be the best I can be for them. That’s not to say this is the only way – some choose not to work and that is the best option for their family, however for those who do, like me, flexibility is key.
I have always put my everything into whatever I set out to achieve, and work is no exception. Before kids, I was often the first in and the last out. Working at home in the evenings and weekends. In fact working 50-60 hour weeks was common. I enjoyed delivering upon expectations and being given greater responsibility as a result. Then came kids. B1 and B2. The light of my life and my greatest achievement, but also the toughest challenge I’ve ever faced. For the first time I couldn’t just take the 7:10am ferry to work because daycare wasn’t open. And then of course B1 got sick. Then B2 got sick. Then B1 decided not to sleep at night. And B2 never did. And so now I exist purely on IV caffeine and the odd adrenaline lift from “negotiations with a 3 year old”.
I still deliver on my work. I haven’t exceeded my sick leave entitlement thanks to support from family, and I work the hours I’m paid to work, but sometimes I work from a different location, or at a different time of day to…. well, to fit it in with the demands of my family. I’ve been fortunate that my employer has provided this flexibility and has trusted me to deliver regardless.
Flexibility to me is support from an employer through a limited period of time where an employee has other external demands on their time. I believe that if you give a bit of flexibility as an employer, you’ll get it back in spades from those working parents. Because they have one of the most compelling reasons there is to be somewhere else, you can bet you’re bottom dollar they’re going to make damn sure they are efficient at getting the work done in the allocated time so they can be.
Provided the work gets done, should it matter where or when? Provided stakeholders aren’t interrupted, and there is a balance of remote and in-office work, does it really matter if you’re not physically tied to your desk all day? The key is to think forward – there will come a time in a few years when B1 and B2 are in school and I’m not so tied down anymore. And then I can pay my employer back in spades.
I’m keen to hear from anyone who’s been offered flexible ways of working. Or employers who have found a way of engaging with a pool of talent through thinking differently about the traditional work structure. Perhaps we can all learn from each other to embrace a new way of working.