October 15, 2013 is the first National Flex Day!
work from home policy. Likewise we do not have a formal flex-time policy. The absence of such policies is good and bad. It is good for employees who are courageous and have compassionate supervisors who can create their own work/life balance. It is bad for the timid, less confident employees who may have curmudgeon supervisors and are stuck trying to raise their families while working in antiquated work environments.
There have been a lot of stories in the media about these issues over the past year. Last year, at CEO Marissa Mayer's direction, Yahoo disallowed working from home. Best Buy quickly followed suit. The decision of both companies was interesting considering that the general belief up to that point was that working from home increases employee productivity, work-life flexibility and job satisfaction.
Flex-Time Helps Mothers Balance Work and Family Responsibilities
Marissa Mayer was on the September cover of Vogue. She said that Yahoo's decision was very company specific and not a commentary on working from home in general. Still, her decision sparked a great deal of controversy since Mayer was a new mom and the youngest CEO of a major company. She went on to inspire further controversy by building a nursery in her office, which is something that your average executive could not do.
Faced with companies who rigidly adhere to antiquated notions of what makes a good worker and babies who desperately need their attention, many working mothers face incredibly difficult choices. And, when leaning in becomes too much, many women opt out. These choices would be infinitely easier if companies focused on what is required to do most jobs instead of holding fast to tradition.
In many instances, our work lives have changed, but corporate policies have not. Often historic practices of what promotes success dictate policies. Many of these practices look like meetings for the sake of having them, requiring workers to be present from 9-5 when most of the work is done via telephone and email, and focusing on busy work as opposed to productive work. These requirements make jobs more stressful often for no good reason.
Many Companies Fail to Appreciate the Business Case for Flex-time
More companies haven't embraced flex-time because they don't necessarily appreciate the business case for it. They believe that giving workers a flexible schedule makes the workers happy, but don't appreciate what's in it for them. They fail to realize that workers, especially mothers, who receive flexible work schedules increase productivity, have better morale, and have greater loyalty to their employers. Since human resources is a core business value, making workers happy makes business sense.
Unfortunately, the debate has been reduced to a question of "slippers v. stilettos". The question becomes, is there something essential about work that is lost if people do their work from home as opposed to the office? On the flip side, employees question what is gained by requiring them to be in their offices when technology allows many to be able to work from anywhere? If companies give workers smart phones without giving them flexible schedules, they merely make workers more available in their former private time thereby detracting from their family time. They are not the "gift" that workers perceive. How many of us have worked a full day and later pushed our kids on the swing at the playground while checking our Blackberries or interrupted our dinners to take a work call? What's "smart" about that?
Hopefully National Flex Day Will Educate Companies
Every working mother I know either dreams of hitting the lottery or craves a job where they feel valued and that allows them to comfortably care for their families. Fortunately, Working Mother magazine has heard them and is doing something about it. It is working to create a movement to inspire more companies to implement flex-time policies. I hope that other professional organizations and women's groups take heed and join the cause as well. If we want to keep women in the workforce and maximize their contributions, flex-time is a concept whose time has come--not just for the lucky or for the extremely confident women who negotiate for it--for all professional women where that sort of schedule makes sense.
Here's a link to more information about "National Flex Day": http://www.workingmother.com/content/what-national-flex-day.