Most people want to say it. And at some point in their careers they probably need to say it. Rather than holding back – say it. In fact, shout it. Because it’ll do you good, and research increasingly indicates that it is good for organizations as well.
Flexibility. There I said it, and I’m in good company. Folks at Stanford Medical School, among others, are saying it because it is part of their plan to attract more female leaders. Offering flexible work options as a way to appease women and younger workers is fine, but there’s something bigger at play. In 2005, exit-survey data from Deloitte indicated that a lack of flexibility was the number one reason women left and was number two for men. What was weird is that at the time Deloitte had lots of flexible work arrangements. It appeared that there was a need for flexibility that was greater than could be solved by having flexible work options.
Flexibility is important because it paves the way for two important f-words: fit and fluidity. We have to change our structures and our mindsets to reflect significant shifts in how we work and how we live so more people can have lives that allow multiple roles, responsibilities and relationships to fit together well and also acknowledges that linear career progressions are less and less the norm. In some cases the best fit may be more structured work rather than less. The point is that the workforce is filled with talented people who need different arrangements to produce their best work and to be their best selves.
The so-called nontraditional workforce is increasingly known as the workforce; they just aren’t as represented in senior leadership positions…yet. So, we’re in the middle of a drawn out shift in how we think about work and how we organize work. We know the old way isn’t going to cut it much longer, but we haven’t figured out a new way quite yet. There is growing evidence that offering flexible work can help organizations attract and retain talent, reduce costs and boost productivity.
So why aren’t more people and organizations dropping the F-bomb? Part of the answer is: because it is risky. So, I’ll drop a couple more f-words: fear and fall out. Flexibility, in part, means increased choice. Choices have consequences. To make good decisions it’s important to know the options AND to know the consequences for taking them. That’s hard in the work-life fit realm because the choices and the consequences depend a lot on context, and the conversation to figure it out isn’t easy and isn’t always welcomed. The Society for Human Resource Managers shares workflex resources to support thinking through flexibility options. But just having flexible work options doesn’t mean people will feel empowered to use them or that they will address the deeper needs about fit.
In the meantime, what concerns about (or praises for) workplace flexibility do you have?