Work-life balance, flexible working and men

Portrait of a Hispanic middle-aged business man smiling and look

My plan had been to finish off the topic of flexible working last week and turn my attention to other issues we need to consider as we #rebalance2020. Then I found myself thinking about International Women’s Day which is coming up next weekend. This year’s theme is #EachForEqual – a call to every one of us to strive for a gender equal world.

In the workplace flexible working is a key factor in achieving gender equality at all levels of seniority. And the relationship of men to flexible working is a complex one.

Many younger men are keen to embrace flexibility, both to suit their own life interests and to help them balance work and family when the time comes. Unsurprisingly those who do are finding themselves experiencing the same prejudices that women have. Namely: the unspoken assumption that wishing to work flexibly shows lack of career commitment; and is certainly not something that can be accommodated at senior levels. Men too are experiencing the challenges created by inflexible and outmoded corporate cultures.

There is however, another group of men that has the power to change these inflexible and outmoded practices. That’s the male managers who often find themselves faced with flexible working requests.

I’ve no wish to imply men deliberately get in the way. It’s simply that as hard-pressed managers who may have very little (if any) training in how to manage flexible workers the temptation is to refuse a request without discussion. If you’re faced with this potential scenario I’d like to offer some advice.

1 Start with the right question

That’s not “can I work flexibly” but “tell me about your experiences of flexible working”. Find out if your manager has ever worked flexibly himself; and whether he’s previously managed flexible arrangements. Follow up by asking who he knows within the organisation or in the industry that is a good manager of flexible workers, These questions will help you understand your manager’s concerns; and identify who might be able to lend you a supportive hand.

2 Think about what’s in it for him

I’m assuming you’ve figured out your business case; so how does that benefit him? Is it a simple case of he gets to keep you as an employee so his time is not tied up in recruiting a replacement? Or does it go further in that switching your hours will – for example – make you more productive or more available to a currently under-served segment of your customer base?

3 Create a compelling vision of a better future

Rather than focusing on allaying concerns raised as a result of your initial questions; use positive psychology to co-create a vivid picture of how the new arrangements might look when working well; and the benefits this will create.

Evidence suggests that in the workplace the majority of men ‘want to do the right thing’ but are not always clear on what it is. Rather than assume it would be pointless, I encourage you to start a conversation and see where it leads. You might not only re-balance your own life; but also find yourself contributing to establishing a more gender balanced corporate world.

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