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Flexible work: that’s so unfair

Do you have ‘parent resentment’?Flexibility in the workplace, such as reduced hours and working from home, is a welcome advancement, yes? Well, yeah, of course it is – especially if you’re one of those benefiting from it. For others, perhaps not so much.
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This might not be a surprise. Earlier this year a British survey of 25,000 people found women were the most likely to request flexible work practices. But it came at a cost, literally and figuratively. Almost half of them, for example, believe those who work flexibly are resented by their colleagues.

As the researchers wrote: “The stigma attached to flexible workers partially explains the lack of progression for women … and the nervousness of women who want to work flexibly in the future.”

Surprisingly, little research has been done on this topic. The focus so far has been on the benefits derived by flexible workers and their employers. Some of the benefits include the retention of talented staff, better health, higher rates of job satisfaction and the by-products of those outcomes, such as productivity and revenue, although they’re harder to prove.

The only analysis I could find from the co-workers’ perspective was one from Cranfield University conducted several years ago. The researchers looked at the degree to which people thought the quantity, quality and effectiveness of their work was impacted by their colleagues who worked flexibly.

The conclusion was that it’s no big deal. On each of those metrics, there was a greater number of people saying flexible work was more of a positive than a negative. Teamwork was the only one that stood out, with some respondents stating flexibility made it problematic to schedule meetings and to contact people who weren’t in the office.

But a couple of points need to be kept in mind about that study. The first is that even the researchers concede their findings were inconsistent with what’s increasingly being reported anecdotally. They cite, for example, the common grumblings from non-flexible employees about the increased workload they’re expected to take on when their colleagues are away.

The second point is that the study hasn’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal. That doesn’t mean the conclusions can’t be trusted; just that they haven’t been verified.

So where does this leave us? Seemingly, the many pros far outweigh the few cons. Flexible work shouldn’t just be embraced; it should be expanded. Everyone could benefit, not just mums and dads whose flexibility is fuelling what’s now referred to as ‘parent resentment’.

A bias, though, should be disclosed. I’ve benefited immensely from flexible work practices at employers past and present. For instance, I once led a call centre team of 100 people, all of whom worked flexibly. Formally named ‘The Flexible Work Team’, they were given the latitude to determine their own schedule.

In that department, none of the co-worker consequences mentioned in this article surfaced. That was because everyone was given the flexibility they desired rather than just a select few people. It was a logistical challenge to coordinate, but high engagement made the effort worthwhile.

Irrespective of what some colleagues feel, flexibility will continue rising in popularity. In Jacob Morgan’s new book, The Future of Work, he writes that “the corporate office as we know it is dead – that is, having a single physical place of business where all employees have to come to work at a certain time and place”.

He advises organisations to abandon the value they attach to the hours an employee works and the location at which those hours are accumulated. The only thing that should matter is their output.

What are your thoughts on workplace flexibility?

Follow James Adonis on Twitter: @jamesadonis

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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