For many years, when we talked about “workplace flexibility” or “flex time,” most people really only thought it applied to working mothers. But workplace flexibility has always been something fathers value too, and the conversation about who needs and wants flexible work – and why – is becoming more and more gender-inclusive.
A flexible work arrangement has always been important to me: early in my career as an aspiring professional, then a corporate employee, and now as a father and entrepreneur. When I worked as a corporate marketer inside a Fortune 500 company, I felt constrained by the traditional work structure and how flexibility was perceived by the organization. Ten years ago, true flexibility just wasn’t accepted. I struck out on my own and built my first firm partly to create more flexibility for myself and others who want the same things. The rising freelance economy is proof positive that people are hungry for work that works with their lifestyle.
In late 2015, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced he’d be taking two months of parental leave following the birth of his first child and expanded the company’s parental leave policy to grant four months of paid leave to all full-time workers (male or female). Although some companies are making strides to support flex time for all employees, men’s desire and need for flexibility still typically receives little attention from traditional organizations.
Women and men clearly need more flexibility: In a survey by the Pew Research Center, 50 percent of working fathers said it was very or somewhat difficult to balance the responsibilities of their jobs and their families. In my view, we need to include both men and women in the conversation about work flexibility in order to expand this issue and create supportive, positive workplaces for every person and family.
The Cost to Individuals
When people aren’t satisfied with their work-life balance, they feel overwhelmed and overworked, and work and motivation both suffer. And when organizations don’t make flexibility a standard, employees don’t put their health and personal well-being first. This is especially tough as an independent, when it's up to you to set your own boundaries.
Even when they do take vacation time, they often aren’t fully present. They’re catching up on email at night or taking calls in the morning. There’s a stigma and an expectation that you can’t prioritize a vacation without a company or client questioning whether you’re really “all in.”
The implications of being overworked cascade through both careers and personal lives as burnout and stress rise, work output is compromised and relationships are taxed. Being “overworked and underfamilied” is not good for individuals, companies, or society.
The Cost to Companies
Companies are increasingly grappling with the issue of flexibility, as the generation of “company men” starts to retire, and is being replaced by a younger generation with a different set of expectations - many of whom are already participating in the freelance economy. The best people have the most options, and if your culture and brand are known for churn and burn, you won’t be able to attract superstars as employees or consultants.
Millennials are not interested in compromises, and that will affect every company’s strategy. The millennial generation is actually leading this workforce shift and making flexibility an issue related to how a firm competes in the market, rather than a nice-to-have perk.
“The workforce of the past was organized around company, but the workforce of the future is organized around the worker. If we can’t find the right people, it’s going to hurt our bottom line,” says Chauncy Lennon, who runs JPMorgan’s workforce initiatives and is studying flexible work arrangements.
But until true evolution occurs, there are two important ways that men can help “be the change.”
1. Individuals need to be more vocal about their needs and wants related to this topic, and assess whether their employer/clients are providing what they need. Men who truly value work flexibility will be vocal about it, seeking out organizations that support their workers. When flexibility needs aren’t met through traditional systems, for the first time ever we’re seeing many men opting to leave the confines of the traditional corporate structure to forge their own path. Men are increasingly embracing independent work because the stigma of flexibility is too high or their company culture doesn’t allow it. And while opting out is one option, men need to recognize they have the power to speak up to change this stigma inside their organization by letting their companies know what they need.
2. People in leadership and management positions need to embrace and advocate this perspective internally and create a culture of accountability. In many companies, men create their own flexible arrangements – often on the sly. Many men won’t ask for a true “flex arrangement” but will just head out for that school play. While that means they’re getting what they need, in some ways it also subtly confirms that men don’t want or need flex time, and the dialogue can be squelched when it appears to be an invisible problem. A Citi study of more than 1,000 LinkedIn members found that nearly 80 percent of women surveyed said they have never heard a successful man talk about balancing work with home, suggesting that although men value work-life balance, they aren’t talking about it.
Those in positions of leadership need to lead by example and vocalize their support of this workplace shift. Creating a culture of accountability instead of face time is a critical component to making flexibility work inside organizations. By providing a more flexible work culture for employees, they in turn will create high-performing teams, stronger employee loyalty, lower turnover and cement their position as a leader to others inside the company, as well as making their organization more nimble and attractive to consultants.
As workplace demographics change and men seek to create the flexibility to balance work with their family or passion projects, it will be a wake-up call for corporations to change their culture to support this mindset of flexibility for women and men.
As Ernst & Young Global Chairman and CEO Mark Weinberger said at the White House Summit on Working Families, “Women don’t want to be singled out and men don’t want to be left out.” Companies that begin treating flexibility as an issue that affects their workers across the board are the ones that will win in talent recruitment and retention.