Workplace Flexibility: If You Can’t Have it All, What’s Close Enough?

Work flexibility can be a never-ending task - for both workers and their supervisors. (Photo illustration by istockphoto.com)

When I left Hewitt, I knew it’d be hard to find another company as flexible.

During my time there I’d worked traditional hours, compressed hours, and an altered full-time schedule of 7 am to 3 pm. Unwilling to compromise on flexibility and creative, challenging, and rewarding work, I chose to start my own firm and create my chances. So far, so good.

I’m one of many.

As David Leonhardt wrote recently in The New York Times:

Taking the next step toward workplace equality probably has to start with an acknowledgment that most parents can’t have it all—at least as long as part-time work, flexible schedules and long leaves do so much career damage.

A growing number of parents already seem to have come to this conclusion. That’s one reason for the rise in the number of mothers who have dropped out of the labor force. Lacking good part-time job options, more are choosing full-time parenting.”

Leonhardt goes on to project that:

The best hope for making progress against today’s gender inequality probably involves some combination of legal and cultural changes, which happens to be the same combination that beat back the old sexism. We’ll have to get beyond the Mommy Wars and instead create rewarding career paths even for parents—fathers, too—who take months or years off. We’ll have to get more creative about part-time and flexible work, too.”

Because he’s talking about gender inequality, he limits himself to a parent’s need for flexibility. Women who choose to have children are the ones who still make less. A study he cites shows that women who had no children and never took time off didn’t fall behind. Their career arc and pay looked like men’s because their life looks like the traditional male’s.

The conversations we’re having about flexibility, “Millennial” needs, and wellness tell us it’s not enough to look at creating equality based solely on working parents’ needs. That doesn’t address our desire for a flexible work path that allows us to take care of our parents, other family, or simply ourselves.

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I don’t believe in having it all. I do believe in having a strong facsimile, and I’ve created it for myself.

That’s not an option for many. If, like moi, you’re at all risk-averse, you need certain things in place: a steady financial base, health care benefits, and the right temperament and skill set, for starters. If you can’t have it all:

  • What’s close enough for you?
  • What do you need from your employer to make that happen?
  • What do you think is reasonable to expect from them?

Lay it out for me.

This article was originally published on Fran Melmed’s Free-Range Communication blog.

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3 Comments on “Workplace Flexibility: If You Can’t Have it All, What’s Close Enough?

  1. From a male's perspective, with all things being equal, it would be difficult to see a woman who took time off to have and raise children return to a job at the same income level as a man who did not take time off. I would consider that very unfair. As you stated, women who did not take time off to have and raise children are equal to men in pay and that seems to me evidence of gender equality.

    If I took time off to raise my kids as a “Mr. Mom”, I would never expect to return to work at the same level as my peers (male and female) who remained at work while I was gone.

  2. rich, i think it depends on the length of time taken off. if there's a true gap in years of service, that's one thing. should we be dinged for maternity leave? or paternity leave, for that matter? for working a flexible work schedule? and so forth. the reality is we all need flexibility to manage home and work responsibilities. and i'm interested to hear how companies and individuals can knit together a fluid, reasonable approach.

    f

  3. From a young professional's perspective, the concept of flexibility seems earned. At what level on the pay scale, at what job title, or at how many years served does a professional earn the flexibility to choose their work/life balance?

    To me — at this level — it's not what I can expect of an employer it's what the employer can expect of me. Fran, do you have any examples of people who “have it all”? If so, how did they time getting it?

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