We often see organisations promoting the idea of working flexibly, but rarely do those in the most senior leadership positions actively demonstrate they are doing it, and promote the fact they are doing so widely.
That’s especially true for men in such leadership positions, with research finding psychological and cultural barriers to men requesting flexible work options.
But for Chief Operating Officer Justin Untersteiner, working a four day week so he can spend more time with his family is clearly something he wants to talk about.
He’s shared his work arrangements within the forward to a 2021 report on men seeking more family-friendly working arrangements for the Breaking Dad paper by the 100 Percent Project.
And now his employer, the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA), has just issued some significant workplace changes to better support staff in working flexibly, and ultimately their lives outside of work.
The AFCA has increased paid parental leave to 16 weeks, accessible to all new parents regardless of ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ status, with the timeframe for taking such leave extended to two years. They will also pay superannuation during paid parental leave.
In addition, the employer has introduced paid leave for those who experience early pregnancy loss, as well as eight weeks of paid gender affirmation leave.
These paid leave shiftsare especially impressive, given the fact the AFCA is a not-for-profit organisation employing more than 800 people, and making the types of parental leave enhancements that are usually reserved for large, for-profit businesses.
Untersteiner says the changes will have a “profound impact” on their people.
“We encourage our people to take leave to support their health and wellbeing, and balance personal commitment,” Untersteiner said.
“We know that allowing leave to be taken flexibly, where possible, can support equality and inclusion.”
Seeing men working flexibly, as well as policies that aim to support all parents in taking paid parental leave, matters.
The Breaking Dad survey of 310 men working in Australian organisations found that men were more likely to request family-friendly work arrangements from employers with higher “psychological safety” — that is, environments where they feel less judged on the choices they make, even if such choices may be seen as less traditional.
In his foreword to the Breaking Dad report, Untersteiner wrote openly about missing much of the year of his son’s life in 2017, due to being stuck in an office and travelling around the country for work. He wrote that when he actually was home: “I wasn’t really present, I was checking emails, on the phone, or thinking about work.”
He says he realised he was missing his son’s childhood, and leaving much of the parenting burden to his wife. It couldn’t continue, he decided to make a change.
Together with his wife, Untersteiner says they made a plan to fundamentally shift how he’d been operating for his entire career. It was confronting and scary, “but I was committed. And it worked.”
Untersteiner and his wife now both work part time, and share all domestic and child-caring duties.
“Now when I tuck my kids in at the end of each day, I feel a greater sense of fulfillment than I ever got working endless hours in the office. And as a result of my wife and I have greater levels of flexibility, we are both kicking career goals. I am now a better leader; my lived experience means I am more supportive of my people to be their best at work and at home.”
But this transition had challenges, as it does for everyone moving to flexible work and having to rethink how they have previously been told to think about what it means to have a successful career.
In Untersteiner’s case, while now with a different employer, he said he did experience jokes from others in the office when he first made the shift to part time, as well as comments that implied people saw him as less committed to his career.
It’s a reminder of why role modelling at the senior leadership level can make a difference in breaking down gender stereotypes and traditional labels.