Flexible Work Policies

Recent research suggests working parents are struggling to look after their health and wellbeing, and balance work commitments. I’m pretty sure anyone who’s had children wouldn’t find this surprising.

But “don’t we have tons of policies in place to support flexibility in the workplace?” I hear you ask. Parental leave, flexible work arrangements, anti-discrimination law. Yes, but despite this, many working parents are still struggling. So, what’s going wrong?

The problem is that for many organisations these policies are just that, only policies, and they are not really being lived by their leaders, and therefore employees don’t feel able to take advantage of them without impacting their career prospects.

A flexible work environment is about all employees finding the right balance between their working lives and their personal lives. While we continue to treat this as a parental issue, we will fail to engage the rest of the workforce. Working parents are not the only ones with lives outside of work. A recent case study on how Mirvac Group engaged their workforce in the benefits of working flexibly, focussed on two males – one who wanted to pursue his interest in Volley Ball, and another who wanted to spend more time with his new baby. This approach showed how flexibility would benefit everyone, and changed the dialogue. Flexibility was treated a sustainability issue for employees, allowing them to focus on their own health and wellbeing.

My own experience

Looking back on my own career, I remember the early childhood years in our family as like being on a hamster wheel. There was a blur of early mornings – getting the kids breakfast, making sure they had lunches, getting them ready for school or day care, drop offs, and the commute to work. In the evenings it was the pick-ups, getting home, organising dinner, baths, stories, bed. Repeat. I’m not sure, despite being very well-organised, how anyone is able to fit in time to focus on their own health and well-being into that kind of daily routine.

That’s when everything is going to plan. Throw into the mix, one of the kids being sick, which they never do at the same time, but serially, and always at a time when you have an important deadline, and you can see how some people are badly impacted by stress, seeing their health and wellbeing taking a serious hit.

For me the workload was shared. There was a participating dad, who usually did the mornings, including breakfast and packing lunches, and we had grandparents who often did the afternoon/evening shift. Today’s families are typically happening later in life, with grandparents more likely to be older and less willing and able as mine were to be quite so involved. Without that kind of support network, unless one parent is the homemaker, or you can afford a full-time nanny, life with young children is very hectic. Getting the mind space for quality time with kids and quality time at work is a constant juggle, often surrounded by guilt as you do both things badly (or, just less brilliantly than you want to!).

With all the support I had, it wasn’t at this time in my life that I asked for flexible work arrangements. It was a few years later, when I added study to the mix that I decided I needed some extra flexibility to make it all work. We all have that something that we want to focus on at various times in our lives, and it’s different for everyone.

In my time, there were far fewer policies to support a more flexible way of working so my manager and I worked something out for ourselves. Today’s workplace now has many policies in place, that can really help, but unless these policies are lived by leaders and worker’s they are just words on paper. Organisational cultures are defined by the actions of the people who work there which may or may not be related to their written policies. This depends on leaders. Do leaders live their organisation values, are they role modelling their policies, working flexibly, showing empathy and caring?

The Culture

The Culture of an organisation or ‘how we do things around here’ is much more than a set of policies. It’s when the boss understands that you can’t physically get to work today, but will still manage to complete 95% of what you need to, to meet your deadline. Through the magic of technology, working from home, and with a little support from them, you can deliver what you need to.

An environment where people are treated as adults, with respect and empathy, while still maintaining a focus on delivering through team work and support, is one where we can all benefit, not just working parents. Knowing that others in the team will have your back when you need them to, and you will do the same for them, creates a cohesive team that can weather all kinds of storms.

This is the key to a successful modern workplace, where people are authentic and connected to each other, there is empathy, respect, and mutual accountability, and a feeling that you truly Belong.

In this kind of environment people have the ability to be their best selves, contribute at their full potential and love what they do.