The Myths of Flexible Working

We grew up in an era where either we or our parents would enter the workforce in our 20s with the idea of working full-time until retirement. It was about loyalty and ‘doing your time’ for the organisation and, in return, there was a career path laid out for you.

Now we tend to dip in and out of the workforce with more of a focus on education, children, lifestyle, caring for elderly parents etc. We also transition more slowly out of work into retirement, which is why we see part-time work increasing in particular in the 60+ male demographic.

One area that is of particular interest to me is that of the flexibility offered to working parents, and in particular working mothers, who move in and out of the workforce as they grow their families.

Research Altris conducted with over 200 women in 2007 showed that having flexible working options to help reintegrate back into the workforce was in their top three priorities. In 2015, we still find this is a priority.

Recently, Statistics New Zealand showed women aged 35-39 had the most babies in 2013, compared with other age groups. So, with the highest number of new mothers already being well established in their careers, offering flexibility is an area organisations need to sit up and take notice of. The danger is, if they fail to do so, they will lose talent, knowledge and experience by failing to assist parents in transitioning back into the organisation.

In my years of working in this area I have noticed a number of what I would call ‘myths’ linked to this area of flexible workers:

Myth One – Flexible workers are less committed than full time workers: We have to acknowledge that our career is only one part of the pie that is called life. There is a common misconception that part time workers are less committed. However, in fact, research shows us that flexible workers are more motivated, engaged and committed and are just as prepared to mentor or assist colleagues as their full-time counterparts.

Myth Two – Flexible workers are less ambitious: We remain a society that tends to focus on input hours rather than the outputs produced and we see senior leaders and self-employed business people who choose to work with flexible hours (sometimes these are long days) and are highly driven and ambitious. However, there is no objective basis that shows an employee working flexibly who is fulfilled and satisfied with their number of work hours is any less ambitious than a full-time worker.

Myth Three – Flexible workers don’t care about progress and lack self promotion: I attended an unconscious bias seminar recently that identified that ‘assertiveness’ in essence is a masculine attribute and unconsciously there is a sense that females should exhibit ‘female’ behaviour.

If women are highly assertive they are perceived to be bossy and aggressive and if they are too retiring they are seen to be not worthy or don’t care about promotion. When we refer to flexible workers, most people assume the pool to be mainly female. So the myth about not caring abut progress / not self-promoting is often more of an unconscious (male v female) bias issue rather than a flexible working issue.

Myth Four – Flexible workers don’t want to be ‘involved’ in activities outside of work: We work with organisation to encourage their parents to return to work and it continues to surprise me how often managers forget or choose not to include flexible workers in events and activities outside of work. A common misconception is parents want to be left alone, for example. when they have a new baby, or once they have returned to the organisation with flexibility. This is often not the case and they would rather be included in communication, events and kept up to date with the team they were involved in.

The growth of flexible and part time employment is happening in most developed countries. Flexible working is a smart way to get more out of your people in less time. Work on busting these myths and you will gain much loyalty and output from your people as a consequence.