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Flexible working—the winners and the losers

Posted by on in Flexible Working

Currently the world of workplace wellbeing and HR are focussing on flexible working, with recent studies showing that it can actually boost productivity. In the UK every worker has had the right to request flexible working since a new law was introduced in 2014. This law is a very positive step in the right direction.

By embracing flexible working, the UK government is taking a stance for work-life integration. Differing from work-life balance which can see many of us torn between competing priorities; work-life integration is about integrating work and home life so they can live in harmony.

Work-life integration means everyone has the right to choose the best way for them to marry work and life in terms of when, where and how they work. This often involves flexible working.

But making new laws does not change a culture. We all know that. Culture is deep-seeded and ingrained.

Men—not always seen as the ‘losers of cultural oppression’, however when it comes to work-life integration they are not winning. Men are facing more hurdles than women when it comes to adopting flexible working.

So leaders, managers, partners, let’s change this. We need to foster a culture where men feel as if they can work flexibly and embrace work-life integration without feeling as if their careers will be adversely affected.

Yes, not everybody wants to work flexibly but the key here is that they have the choice. It’s time to open the conversation to enable choice.

Many organisations believe, and in fact many men themselves foster the same belief that, if men choose to work flexibly they are not taking their careers seriously. The current culture in many organisations and, more broadly in society, terribly hinders flexible working and the potential benefits we could all reap from it.

If you can get your work done in a timely and effective fashion, meeting your set goals and KPIs, what does it matter where or when you complete the work? Workplace leaders need to recognise this. More than recognise this, leaders need to facilitate, embrace and practice this themselves.

Leaders, managers, colleagues surely it’s about time we move away from rewarding facetime and move instead towards, measuring a ‘dedicated worker’ based on their performance and outputs.

Men can be particularly bound to this old way of measuring success and still think they are the ‘bread-winner’ or the ‘hunter’ and need to spend all their time at work, working hard.

As we know more women than ever are working. While women tend to have more access to flexible working, they too see negative impacts—they are often overlooked for promotions for doing so.

In the study that my team at Robertson Cooper did with Bank Workers Charity, Making Flexible Working Work: Moving from Work-Life Balance to Integration, we looked in detail at the gender disparity around adopting flexible working and also the implications on both sides. We found that only 28 per cent of senior executives are female, this is despite the fact that more women are in the workforce than ever before.

This statistic is grossly underwhelming. Can this really still be the case in 2016? Women, like men, are too suffering the impacts of the current culture—where facetime and long desk hours are rewarded. People who are not necessarily working harder, but rather longer are getting the promotion. Women, it seems, are missing out.

Changes need to happen across the board so that men have equal access to flexible working and so that neither women nor men are penalised professionally for embracing work-life integration. 

It is more ‘acceptable’ amongst employees with carer responsibilities, who are usually women, to take up flexible working as there is an obvious and easily explained need for them to. Although as I discussed, this is not without its negative impacts.

We are seeing more and more men taking up childcare responsibilities and rejecting the impractical and false notion that childcare is only a job for women. Saying this though, it is important to reiterate that work-life integration be opened up beyond carers. Everybody should feel like they have a right to request flexible working.

Why should single people, or people who choose not to have children not be ‘allowed’ to practice work-life integration? This simply isn’t fair and can foster ‘burn-out’, where people dedicate years of their life solely focussing on their career and eventually realise that this is not sustainable—hence burn-out.

Work-life Integration is about working smarter to reduce stress, unhappiness and consequences like burn-out, and creating more good days at work.

Men, women, all of us should be able to have conversations with our managers, and managers with their staff, around embracing work-life integration through flexible working without the fear of repercussion.

Work-life integration has the potential to really impact peoples’ lives in a positive way. We can feel more accomplished at work and home. It can help reduce the feeling of ‘missing out’ or ‘losing out’ in one of our domains.

Leaders and managers, it is time we look to work-life integration to foster better working environments to positively impact wellbeing at work, and in turn in life.

If you’d like to read more on work-life integration practices such as flexible working you can download the report, Making Flexible Working Work: Moving from Work-Life Balance to Integration.

Does your workplace embrace work-life integration through practices like flexible working? And importantly do you participate? If you do, what benefits are you seeing, or perhaps what negative impacts are you seeing?

Continue the conversation, comment below or tweet @ProfCaryCooper.

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Guest Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Cary CooperGood Day at Work™

The new wellbeing resources hub founded by @profcarycooper and Roberston Cooper. Join for FREE and access blogs, videos, downloads, podcasts and more.

Ben MossBen on Twitter

MD of Cary Cooper's business psychology firm, Robertson Cooper - for all things wellbeing, engagement and resilience at work.

Cary CooperCary on Twitter

Professor Cary Cooper, Director and Founder of Robertson Cooper Ltd, Distinguished Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Manchester Business School.

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