The theory of flexible working seems good with policy changes that at least require employers to reasonably consider requests for flexible working terms. However, unless the practice within organizations is carefully assessed, there’s no knowing whether actual value is being contributed.
Unfortunately, flexible working is still enshrouded in gender stereotypes (working mothers especially, who are deemed to be less serious about their careers), ideal worker norms (one who is devoted to work and nothing else) and stigmatization of employees who attempt to request for flexible working.
Importance of flexible working
For many working parents, the numerous transitions between at-work and at-home responsibilities can take a toll on their productivity and cause increased stress. This was coupled with a sense of pressure and feelings of guilt and inadequacy at being unable to ‘do it all well’.
While partners did help with managing some of the at-home pressure, most mothers took upon themselves the pressure of resolving work-life balance/conflict, protecting their partners from the major responsibilities.
That being said, flexible working is not only important for mums. In many organizations, many such policies are implemented with greater clemency for women than men. In the face of campaigns about more ‘involved fathering’, implementing flexibility for mums alone furthers the perpetuation of gender stereotypes and takes the gender equality movement back a little ways. Exclusion of men within the home domains can lead to escalated strife and stress in thehome. However, when flexibility is allowed for both partners, the inclusion allows for better management of stress and conflict, which in turn results in better ability to cope with both work and home responsibilities.
This then raises the question: how can flexible working be practically implemented within organizations?
1. Encourage all employees to apply for flexible working
As stated, aiming flexible working policies at women alone promotes gender stereotypes in the workplace, increases employee skepticism and inadvertently increases the performance burden placed on working mothers.
However, by promoting male access to similar flexibility as women, this can be reduced and allow some of the pressure to diffuse. However, bear in mind that traditional gender roles may still affect decisions and attitudes of employees within the organization.
2. Build a results-based system
Avoid stigmatizing employees working on flexible schedule by rewarding employees that deliver excellent work, rather than those who are physically present most of the time. This is especially important for roles that don’t rely on presence for performance, such as web design and other like roles.
By openly rewarding the efforts of flexible employees, the idea of flexible working will start being viewed as a legitimate option for those who need it to improve productivity in both areas of their lives. This also nurtures a culture of inclusion, and encourages those with flexible hours to use their flexibility to actually improve their productivity.
3. Do not abuse flexible working
Your motives for implementing flexible working should not be to lay employees at your beck and call throughout the day. This will lead to more stress, burnout and exclusion of employees who cannot be ideal workers.
Rather, it must stem from a desire to allow allemployees to achieve maximum potential in every aspect of their lives, telling them that their lives outside the workplace are also just as important. This will allow your organization to attract more committed, talented and productive individuals.