Everyone Can (and Should) Benefit From Flexibility—Not Just Parents

SITE Everyone Can (and Should) Benefit From Flexibility, Not Just Parents
Photo by Tatiana Diakova on Unsplash

All you parents out there have a lot to gain from workplace flexibility: Depending on your FlexType, you can set your own full-time or part-time schedule, keep your schedule malleable to accommodate the unexpected, work outside of the office for some or all of the week, and/or limit your annual travel days. But parents aren't the only ones we have in mind at Werk…

Indeed, we believe everyone can benefit from workplace flexibility, regardless of family situation, and everyone should be able to access flexibility. Unfortunately, that's not always the case.

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In a new article for Harvard Business Review, The Center of WorkLife Law's Joan C. Williams and Marina Multhaup call out the biases facing parents. They cite the maternal wall we've previously discussed, and they also show evidence of the scrutiny fathers face when they time off to handle familial obligations. (One study participant said he was harassed for taking a two-week paternity leave but praised for taking a three-week vacation.)

But Williams and Multhaup also call out the biases facing non-parents. Through their research, they've realized managers are more likely to grant flexibility to employees with families—while the non-parents and the unmarried employees are expected to pick up the slack because they "have no life." And Williams and Multhaup cite research that shows childfree women work the longest hours of any group.

So the answer, these researchers argue, is to grant flexibility regardless of rationale. As we've said time and again, there's no one-size-fits-all policy for flexibility, because employees have different needs. Some employees need flexibility because they have families to which to tend, some have other caregiving obligations, and some just want to capitalize on their peak hours of productivity. That's why Williams and Multhaup push for a "reason-neutral" work-from-home policy, for example, and they advise employers to focus less on the process and more time on the product. Instead of speculating about whether an employee is staying productive while working remotely, employers can simply see if the work is getting done. After all, Williams and Multhaup say, workers who show their face in the office 80 hours per week aren't necessarily the most efficient workers. And, in fact, some people are more productive when they're not working from the office.

Plus, these researchers say, employers should have clear policies around flexibility so no one is unclear about the flexibility to which they're entitled. (That's why we've given names to the six types of flexibility in our Flexiverse™.) And when employees do make use of flexibility, employers shouldn't signal, even subtly, that doing so is anything but normal.

Through implementing and normalizing workplace flexibility, employers can reap their own flexibility benefits: namely, happier, higher-performing employees more loyal to their companies and more likely to promote their companies. With such a variety of employee needs, there may not be one solution that fits all, but we think six flexibility types can fit most. As Williams and Multhaup say, "Though people's reasons for needing flexibility at work may differ, the principles for managing that flexibility are the same."

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