I feel angry right now about some, predominantly male CEOs, who are mandating staff to come back to the office. Apparently, it’s impossible to create a great culture and be innovative without face-to-face contact (if anyone has seen peer-reviewed studies to support these claims, please send them my way because I haven’t come across anything…).
Research suggests that over 50 percent of women have left or are considering leaving a job due to lack of flexibility. Mandating employees to work in the office for at least part of their working week is not only a poor decision for reducing people’s autonomy (which is a big motivation killer), it’s also bad for women.
McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2021 report found that the pandemic took a huge toll on women. One in three women are now considering downshifting in their career or exiting the workforce entirely – up from 25 percent of women who felt this way only a few months into the pandemic.
My company, Inventium, employs mostly women. And almost two years ago, we made two big decisions about how we work. We decided to be a remote-first company (which means we no longer have physical offices) and we introduced the Four Day Week (whereby all staff are paid for full-time hours, even though we only work four normal length days every week and take Fridays off).
When I think about flexibility and make decisions like the ones above, I do it because creating an amazing workplace experience for my team is one of my primary motivators and goals as a business owner. But as a happy side effect, giving the team more flexibility has not only been great for productivity (which increased by 26 percent in the six months after introducing the Four Day Week), but it’s also great for women and families.
Several members of my team are working parents – myself included. As a single mum, the flexibility allows me to not only do school drop off and pick up (and witness the huge smile on my daughter’s face when she spots me outside the school gate at 3.30pm), but it also means I can be there for almost every school event that is meaningful for her, from swimming carnivals through to seeing her as one of the shepherds in the primary school nativity play.
Sadly, this is not the experience for many women I know due to a lack of flexibility at their workplace. Leaders – and especially male CEOs who are mandating that staff return to the office – please don’t underestimate the importance of flexibility. If you do, it’s now very easy for them to find somewhere else that doesn’t make this mistake.
Dr Amantha Imber is the Founder of Inventium, Australia’s leading behavioural science consultancy and the host of How I Work, a podcast about the habits and rituals of the world’s most successful people.