I was thrilled to be a guest on the ‘Business is Boring’ podcast with host Simon Pound from the Spinoff. We chatted about flexibility in the workplace, transitioning from paid work to entrepreneurship, and business mentoring… among other things. The flexibility topic seemed to strike a chord with listeners, which makes sense because this is something that has impacted us all at some stage, in one way or another. Despite ample research lamenting our long working hours and the resulting decline of leisure time and increase in stress levels, and despite being informed about the many benefits enjoyed by companies and countries that have adopted shorter workdays and flexible working options, we still cling to the same old outdated ways of arranging work.
Why do we need Results Only Work Environments (ROWE) and flexible workplaces?
Because we’ve still got a sh*tload of work we need to do at home! That stuff didn’t go away when women entered the workforce. The system worked very well when men worked and women ran the home and raised the kids (Think Reggie Perrin – nine to five at the office, six o’clock swill with your buddies, and home to a hot dinner and a gin and tonic by the fire). Then we burned our bras (free the boobies!!) and joined the workforce too, because girls can do anything, but none of those original structures changed. So what happened to all the stuff we were doing…??? (We outsourced the kids to the state, discovered the joys of convenience food, ‘My Food Bag’ to the rescue, and joined the blokes at the pub for the 6 o’clock swill.)
Research suggests that, despite both partners working in the paid labour force, it often ends up being the woman in the relationship who ends up being responsible for most of the traditionally ‘female’ and unpaid so-called ‘pink’ jobs – like doing the laundry, cooking the dinner, helping with the homework, making sure the kids have school lunch and clean underpants, finding their swimming goggles, dealing with the cat puke in the corner, cleaning out the fish tank, dispensing Band-Aids, hugs, encouragement and sage advice, not to mention mopping the floor, cleaning the bog, and changing the f*****g toilet roll (because only women can do that).
Disclaimer: Not hating on men just generalising okay? Yes we’ve come a long way and we can all think of examples of partners who contribute equally if not more around the home. As I write this my partner is making us beef bourguignon after having done the grocery shopping and the vacuuming earlier in the day.
Important question to ponder at this juncture: If I was a man and my wife had done those things would I comment on that? Do men go around saying “I’m so lucky, my wife actually cooked a whole meal today and she even did the grocery shopping!” (My husband helpfully pointed out that he probably would because it’s such a rare event for me to do it, but you get my point).
Many men, I suggest, would also appreciate flexible workplaces, in fact it may even be more difficult for men to challenge the status quo than it is for women, since ideas about masculinity and work are also very deeply ingrained in western society.
Anyway, this predicament many women find themselves in is what renowned sociologist Arlie Hochschild calls ‘the Second Shift’, or the double burden – that of having to work to earn money as well as be responsible for significant amounts of unpaid domestic labour.
Those 9-5 work structures were set up for a traditional family. They were built for a different time and they no longer serve us, as family takes many different forms now. However we seem to be really attached to them for some reason. It baffles me. Maybe, it’s partly because those who have the power to change them are the least bothered by them, since flexibility is more likely to be extended to those at the senior levels of businesses.
Even if we don’t have shitloads of laundry waiting for us at home we do have lives! There are things we want to do, opportunities we want to take advantage of, trips we want to take, courses we want to attend, hobbies we want time to enjoy, things we want to learn, and experiences we want to have before we die. And NO, we’re not willing to wait until we’re 65 to finally have more time to spend with the people we love or do the things that bring us joy.
Lack of awareness of this, and the seeming inability of many companies to get their head around what flexibility means or the myriad of benefits it can bring them, is pushing more and more people towards entrepreneurship. People can see the benefits of entrepreneurship (for example, when you work from home you can free your boobies whenever you want!) and are willing to make the leap. Which is a smart thing to do in the global gig economy.
Legislation in NZ enables all workers to request some kind of flexible option, not just those with care-giving responsibilities, but everyone, (whether or not this is widely known or commonly practised is another story) but I’m saying let’s go beyond that. I believe it’s the responsibility of every employer to be aware of the hopes and dreams and life goals of those people who work for them and to help them work towards those goals – after all, they are helping the company reach its goals. The benefits are obvious (to me anyway) so what’s holding companies back?
What changes to your working situation would make all the difference to you? A four day work week? One or two days working from home? A completely ‘results only work environment’ where you have complete autonomy and accountability for the results you achieve and where you’re measured on performance, not presence? What would you do with the extra time and freedom? Let me know your thoughts.
You can listen to the Spinoff podcast here