“The boss didn’t want to set a precedent” is an excuse I’ve heard over and over again from women who say their request for flexible work was denied.
So I wasn’t surprised to see it come up in new research released today from Career Inside Track, to mark Flexible Work Day 2017.
Around one quarter of the more than 200 people surveyed said they had had their requests for flexible work denied, with 60% saying they had experienced ‘flexism’ — a word the report authors use to describe being discriminated against for working flexibly.
Denying someone the ability to work flexibly often means denying them the opportunity to stay in their current role. It can mean denying them the opportunity to work, to have a career, to spend time with their family, to care for someone, or to pursue a hobby or interest that contributes to their wellbeing.
When I acquired Women’s Agenda a little over a year ago I had a newborn and a toddler at home.
I had taken seven months maternity leave from my then (and very supportive) employer, but like many women — particularly those with a second or third child — I actually had no idea how I was going to return to a full time or even a part time position in the office.
I saw the opportunity to acquire the business as a means to not only continue with the work I love, but to do it in the time that I could.
Work would become something I do, rather than a place I go.
Those first few months were a mess — both physically and mentally. I worked randomly throughout the night, and would sleep sporadically during the day. I needed to get staff, contractors and our tech in order. We needed to source new clients, as well as sponsors for our annual awards program, and create new revenue streams for the business.
Thankfully I had plenty of help: from family, my husband, friends, and people throughout my network who offered their support and guidance.
Thankfully also, I had the opportunity to work flexibly — from whenever and wherever I could. Even if that meant sitting up in bed on a laptop at 3am. There’s no way I could have grown this business or continued to edit and publish Women’s Agenda if I needed to do it according to the set and established hours of an employer.
Over the past 12 months, I’ve worked from anywhere and everywhere — including some particularly great locations: Cafes, airports, beaches, picnic tables, client offices, hotel lobbies and more.
Our small team has also worked from some great co-working spaces and virtual offices in Sydney and Melbourne, and we’ve toyed with the idea (but not committed) with getting a permanent office to use as needed. Right now, I’m in a co-working space run by Two Space, by a beach, with a 10-week old Dachshund puppy in my lap.
So when Vanessa Vanderhoek contacted me asking if I would be an ambassador for Flexible Work Day, I immediately said yes.
It’s true flexible working gives new mothers like me better opportunities to continue on with work.
But flexibility is about more than ‘working mothers’. It’s about giving everyone the opportunity to work in a way that actually works for them, and their needs and interests outside of paid employment. It’s about fixing a way of ‘working’ that is fundamentally broken, and re-thinking the nine to five, Monday to Friday working week that is a hangover from the industrial era.
Flexible work also gives you the opportunity to get back your productivity. I work less hours than I did when I was working full-time in an office, but get significantly more done.
The reason why is simple: I’ve removed the fluff. There are no long internal meetings to attend, no office politics to contend with, and travel and commuting can occur on my own terms.
I can also work at the times that I’m personally at my most productive.
According to the Career Inside Track research, flexibility was listed as the most important influencing factor on career choices, followed by passion, work environment, remuneration and career progression.
Despite this, too many men and women have their requests for flexible work denied — or don’t even get the opportunity to make such requests due to concerns regarding how they might be perceived in the workplace.
And at the leadership level, there’s still that concern about the dreaded ‘precedent’ that a person working flexibly could set.
I wonder how much great innovation and productivity have been lost in businesses with leaders who don’t want to “set a precedent”.
A good leader should be able to see beyond the hours their staff are working, to what their staff are delivering.
I look forward to the day when we don’t call it ‘flexible working’, it’s just ‘working’. A day when the ‘precedent’ for working flexibly has well and truly already been set.