Opinion

Flexibility is not starting at 9:30am on Wednesdays

People have their own families, and they want to go home to them. This is the driving force behind a new breed of flexibility, and it might be hard for some managers to accept, writes Alison Michalk.

There was a post that gained a lot of traction in social media recently. It read: “We expect women to work like they don’t have children and raise children like they don’t work.”

It resonated with so many working mothers, who go about their daily lives with the exhausting responsibility of what amounts to at least two full-time jobs. Which really does not get the recognition it deserves. Because like the quote says, we’re largely expected to work like parenting has zero impact. But it has a huge impact. Not on our ability to deliver exceptional work, but on us. Our schedules. Our sleep. Our personal lives. Our ability to leave the house without Vegemite stains.

For the actively involved parents reading, you get it. The “juggle” is a cute way of describing what is an almost heroic feat, expected of you daily. Rinse, repeat.

And to have a boss, an employer, staff or colleagues that value you and your role as a parent is a true godsend. We don’t like to admit it in our society, but we need children. Unless you intend on never using the services of anyone younger than you, whether a doctor or a barista, chances are you need children. And ergo someone to raise them. Preferably to be decent members of society.

Which is why more than ever we need radical flexibility.

Not workplaces that “let you” leave at 3pm for a school run, but workplaces that acknowledge the true workload that is required to both raise small humans, run a household (even with divided labour) and outperform the Q3 sales projections.

When staff have babies in my company, I don’t pretend to know what is the best solution to manage their workload, their partners’ schedule (if they have one), the available childcare days. I let them figure it out.

That’s to say I support them choosing when and where they work. Because I trust them to choose the most optimal and suitable time to get great work done. (Not to mention mothers are true masters of efficiency.)

We also believe in being a ‘calm company’ – inspired by Jason Fried’s latest book: “It doesn’t have to be crazy at work.”

That’s to say not everything is urgent, asap, all-hands, constant crisis mode from dawn to dusk. And that’s because we value wellbeing and the environment we’ve created for people to work in.

If you’re the sort of micro manager that knows when Susie last went out for a coffee, this is going to be especially difficult for you. But if you want great performance and to retain great staff, companies simply have to adapt.

And no, not all women are the primary caregivers, but an astounding majority are. I also strongly believe we – as employers – need to play an active role in encouraging male participation in child rearing.

Which leads to my last point. Another thing we’re not at my company is family. I cringe when workplaces use this terminology. It’s such an unsettling take on the term.

People have their own families, and they want to go home to them. I believe that as more companies adopt radical flexibility, more people will get home to those families, or fur babies.

Alison Michalk is CEO of online community building agency Quiip.

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