Flexible working: what’s your business case?

African American businesswoman juggling many objects and feeling

At the end of last year the UK government turned the discussion about flexible working on its head. The Queen’s speech in December 2019 promised legislation to make flexible working the default position for all employees.

When I began campaigning for flexible working 25 years ago a positive business case was essential. Employers assumed a detriment and viewed flexibility as a concession for employees unable to work standard hours. Things have moved on since then. Increasing numbers of UK employees now have a legal right to request flexible working..

Evidence of the benefits that flexible working brings to employers has been accumulating. Flexible and reduced hours workers have been found to be as (and sometimes more) productive as their colleagues working standard arrangements. There has been a growing awareness of the large number of people forced to work below their skills levelin an effort to find flexibility; of mothers holding back from promotionbecause of concerns about work-life balance; and most recently of the enormous benefits that advertising all roles as flexible can bring in terms of attracting a more diverse range of applicants.

Despite this wealth of evidence some employers – and more pertinently some individual managers – remain sceptical. In my book I suggest you can be most persuasive when you develop your personal business case; and that you should think about it at three levels:

  1. The personal. What’s in it for your manager (and perhaps your team)? The obvious answer here is the resources he or she will lose if your health suffers and you begin to under-perform. If you feel you simply cannot continue in your current arrangement and resign there will also be a financial loss to your employer. Typically this will be the cost of recruiting your replacement and getting her up to speed. And don’t underestimate how much internal knowledge (about “how things are done around here”) you’ve accumulated.
  2. The wider organisational business case. This is represented by the ways in which your employer benefits from supporting women to progress into senior management.
  3. The external (PR) level. I’ve discovered that most employers value the kudos associated with an external award (such as Best Employer for Women or Best Employer for Working Families). At the external level there is also an increasing realisation that the internal setup should mirror the marketplace in which your employer operates. So, for example lawyers have told me they would not be received well if they sent a team to a potential client and the team comprised solely of white men.

If you need more clarity around developing your own business case I’ve prepared a free workbook which you can access here.

Along with building your business case goes a mind-set of feeling entitled to flexible working – especially where the latter is part of your strategy for reducing work-life conflict. Knowing that you’re entitled to live a balanced life will give you the courage to ask.

Once you’re clear on how flexible working benefits both you and your employer the next step is to work out what sort of arrangement best suits your needs. Join me next week when I’ll be writing about how to #upcycle your job (and why you should).

#BalanceforBetter – IWD 2019

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Another year has gone by and once more we’re getting ready to celebrate International Women’s Day. This year’s campaign theme is #BalanceforBetter – urging us to take action and build a gender balanced world.

There are plenty of economic, social and moral arguments for gender balance in all aspects of life. In the business world there’s mounting proof that achieving gender balance at all levels will have a positive impact on the bottom line. And in my experience achieving that balance requires an employer to support good work-life balance.

There’s growing evidence that mothers (and an increasing number of fathers) are compromising their careers in their efforts to achieve work-life balance. There’s also considerable research evidence confirming that flexible working is a key factor in supporting women’s career progression. Wider access to well-structured flexible working arrangements often has other benefits. For example, it allows fathers to be more involved in child rearing; which in turn enables mothers to participate more fully in the workplace. In an ideal world our employers would be fully convinced of the benefits that accrue when everyone can work flexibly; and would have practices in place to make that happen.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world and we still have a way to go. Waiting for our employers means we could be waiting a very long time. If we want change then it’s down to us to make it happen. To guide our actions we can draw on lessons from previous generations of working women:

  • We embrace our pioneering role. The corporate world needs a new band of leaders ready to complete the workplace revolution by modelling new possibilities. Not just for our own sake, but also for the benefit of future generations. Do we want our daughters and sons to struggle with work-life balance in the same way we currently do?
  • We connect with our power to source the courage we need to ask for #better. It’s easy to feel disempowered in the face of embedded cultural norms that tell us we must choose between career and caring – we cannot have both. When we dig deep we remember that we’re not only entitled to live a balanced life but that doing so is essential for our wellbeing.
  • We take the first step recognising that change often happens slowly and incrementally: and that’s no bad thing. When we’re pioneering new ways of working things will not always run smoothly. We’ll need to make adjustments on the journey; to pause and reflect. And we’ll need to remember that as our life circumstances change we’ll want to restructure again to hold onto our work-life balance.

The International Women’s Day website reminds us that it’s a year-long campaign, not a one-day event. So if you’re ready to join the call and #BalanceforBetter why not make that the focus of your life in 2019? Connect with me and let’s work on Balanced Leadership together.

Everyday courage

Superhero girl holding a heart icon

When we think of courage most of us will think in terms of big, bold, brave acts. Such as – for example – those taken by the Suffragettes a century ago; and which contributed to improved lives for so many women. While few of us are likely to be called upon to demonstrate this level of bravery; we can all be courageous in our everyday lives.

Submitting a flexible working request – particularly in a senior role – may not at first glance appear to be an act of courage, although I choose to see it that way. When we ask in the belief it will improve not only our own lives but those around us we’re demonstrating the courage of our convictions – which the Oxford dictionary defines as being ‘brave enough to do what one feels to be right’.

Challenging a corporate culture that forces us to compromise well being and family time for the sake of our career has to be a good thing. If we don’t then nothing will change and our daughters (and sons) will find themselves in exactly the same position down the line. We’re acting with integrity when we take a stand. Writing in Rising Strong researcher Brené Brown defines integrity as

choosing courage over comfort’

Brené’s books are full of great advice on how to be more courageous.

Courage means finding the confidence to step outside our comfort zone. As women we often feel uncomfortable when we think about doing this at work. We know we’ll be criticised regardless of how we step out of line; and there will be people waiting for us to fail (after all terms like the ‘glass cliff’ were not coined for nothing).

How can we cultivate the courage to become Balanced Leaders?

  • We start by having faith in the value we bring to our employers; and the contributions we make. Aiming for balance will make us more, not less effective; and more likely to stay in workplaces that desperately need to improve their gender balance.
  • We hold onto our sense of entitlement to a balanced life. Balance allows us to be present for all those important non-work moments that add to the richness of our lives. As they say: nobody on their deathbed regretted not working more.
  • And we continue to hold a vision of a better working world for the generations of women that will follow us.

Emmeline Pankhurst reportedly said: ‘courage calls to courage everywhere’.

Whether it’s the enormous courage that enabled her to endure or the small everyday courage demonstrated by our grandmothers and mothers as they pressed for progress in the corporate world; it’s all been moving us towards the same end – an improvement in women’s lives.

The corporate world still needs to change; to embrace the value of women’s contributions at every level. As women we must find the courage to change it. If we wait for our employers we could be waiting another century.

So this month I want to encourage you to step outside your comfort zone. Embrace those small everyday acts of courage that will improve not only your own working life but also that of the women around you. Let’s build on the courage of earlier generations of women, grow ourselves into Balanced Leaders and complete the workplace revolution.