10 ways to make flexible working a right that improves our lives

I’ve been in the flexible work trenches this past month — digging into new research and musing on some major “future of flex” talks to understand how we turn flexible working from being viewed as an accommodation or perk to a right that improves our lives.

I was honored 1MFWF invited me to discuss job sharing for The State of National Flex webinar on National Flex Day with flexible work thought leaders. Here are the main takeaways…

5 key takeaways:

  1. Millennials will move flexible work forward.
  2. We’re already working flexibly and remotely, even if it’s not official.
  3. Companies need to track flexible work to optimize programs.
  4. Flexible work attitudes change slowly, but they do change.
  5. It shouldn’t matter why a person wants to work flexibly.

And one more I couldn’t get out of my head: Does flexible working actually make us work more?


When I started Work Muse, I was floored by the UK Workingmums survey showing that half of working moms feel discriminated against. After our National Flex Day discussion, I was curious to see how their 2017 survey stacked up. Turns out new moms are seriously fed up — nearly 60% say they’re not gonna go back.

      Nope.

                Nu-uh.

                        Not gonna return to their job after maternity leave if they don’t get flexible work granted. And 30% more say they’re not sure if they’ll return if flexible work isn’t offered. Um…that’s 90%. You’re probably thinking, “It’s not the US, why does it matter?”

As I’ve connected with job share businesses, I’ve noticed one thing: they’re all in countries with more family-friendly policies (i.e. universal healthcare, subsidized childcare, and parental leave) and flexible work legislation. During Redesigning Work: Making Flexibility the Solution, Not the ProblemDr. Heejung Chung reveals that the UK was one of the first countries to give employees the right to ask for flexible work — for parents in 2003, then all workers in 2014 — but it’s gone nowhere, dead in the water. Why?

retaliation

There’s zero onus on UK employers to justify denying a flexible work request, which is glaringly obvious by the Workingmums study:

  • One-fifth of those on maternity leave had their flexible work request denied and 80% of those felt that the refusal was not justified,

And of the working moms who did get to work flexibly?

  • 67% agree they must work harder to prove themselves to overcome unconscious bias
  • 51% worry that their flexible work arrangement will be taken away
  • 29% feel discriminated against for working flexibly 

Dr. Chung points out that Denmark passed the right to ask for flexible work in 2015 and surprise surprise, it works! The difference? Employers must justify why they are denying a flexible work request.


Millennials will move flexible work forward

Everyone wants to work flexibly; it’s among the top 3 factors for men and women searching for a job. Millennials are becoming parents, and they don’t see flexible working as a motherhood perk.

We crave flexibility because we’re work-fatigued; Americans are working 50+ hours a week and digital overtime has become the norm, leaving 28% of us always feeling overwhelmed by technology and millennials feeling the stress three times their boomer counterparts.

but Does flexible working make us work more?

To manage our workaholic lives, we need control over how and where we work more than ever, but as we look at the future of work with contract working on the rise, Brigid Schulte of Better Life Lab laments, “What’s to prevent us from working ourselves to death in the US (like this young woman in Japan), where overwork results in up to 120,000 deaths per year with healthcare costs rivaling diabetes?”

So how do we create a culture where flexible work is de-stigmatized and accessible while also ensuring that it’s not a conduit for working around the clock?

10 ways to make flexible working a right that improves our lives:

  1. Reduce stigma by de-parenting and de-gendering flexible working, starting with parental leave for men and women equally.
  2. Make flexible work practices transparent and available to all employees.
  3. Implement different flex options for different roles.
  4. Leaders at the top need to show active support for flexible work practices by openly exercising theirs and encouraging others to do so, especially middle managers.
  5. Train on stigma and unconscious bias, and
  6. Create a culture that values the whole person including the skills they bring from their personal lives.
  7. Track flexible work results to optimize programs.
  8. Train employees on how to work flexibly with boundaries for a better work-life balance.
  9. Self-advocacy for flexible work approval and not working more due to it — Manar Morales, CEO of Diversity & Flexibility Alliance calls it, “Nobody is going to tell you to work less, you have to claim your own autonomy.”
  10. Policy — pass the right to ask for flexible work with legal consequences to employers who deny it.

Why don’t more employers implement widespread flexible work practices when they’re a proven tool to improve productivity, recruitment, and retention? A future where workplace flexibility is a right that improves our lives requires education, a change in work culture, and policies to support employees who work flexibly.


Melissa Nicholson is the Founder & CEO of Work Muse, a job share solutions firm. Job sharing is a partnership between two people to share the responsibilities of one full-time position. Work Muse drives adoption of job sharing in business as a source of competitive advantage while helping individuals find work-life balance. Join the #JobshareRevolution here –– events, resources, and relevant content to empower you in work and life! For more info, hello@workmuse.com.

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