Should Employers Accommodate Working Mothers with Flexible Work Arrangements? Part 2

Contributed by Jacqueline Church

2203238558_fff5197352_m.jpgSorting it Out – Examining Ourselves First

A lot of women wrestling with issues of being a working mom have unwittingly adopted the role model of both their accomplished, career-driven fathers AND their accomplished, stay-at-home mothers. It doesn’t necessarily occur to them until the two things come to a head, usually with a call from the school nurse on the same day as an important client meeting. They desire corporate success, a happy, well-adjusted child, a spotless home and contented spouse. Only most don’t have a stay-at-home wife helping us out. And, increasingly, our partners have both expectations.

What choices are we making about our careers and our personal lives? How have we anticipated or planned for the natural arc of both, as well as their inevitable conflicts?

Assessing Corporate Structures and Supports, or the Absence of Them

In may cases, little has changed in the way our accomplishments at work are measured. What it means to be the candidate of choice for the corporate office has changed very little from the time of “Father Knows Best” while the rest of the picture has leap-frogged ahead. Face-time too often serves as proxy for accomplishment. This is the death-knell for many FWAs. We know someone’s working hard because he’s always at the office working late hours. (Perhaps he’s just really inefficient? Spent too much time on the fantasy baseball pool?)

Against this backdrop of poorly defined performance management, ad hoc decision-making by managers and by employees, there are few companies that proactively and effectively plan and implement FWAs. Telecommuting. job-sharing, part-time work, flex-time, compressed workweeks. Adding to this challenge is the insufficiency of a one-size fits all approach. Unfortunately, this is the fall-back for many managers with little training to the contrary. They lament “If I do it for you, then I have to do it for everyone.”

Each Party Takes Responsibility, Both Win

Using the example of the lying working mother we began with, her colleagues (parents and child-free) , and the commenters, let’s explore how we might build a better model. Assume they all work together and consider what it would it look like if:

  1. the employer had pro-actively stated that all employees were responsible for meeting their deliverables and the company supported managers with training around how to help employees achieve their goals;
  2. the company offered FWA strategies to employees;
  3. the policies clearly outlined what choices were available, how they would affect employee promotions, or not;
  4. the choices were need-blind, not need-based, but free of value (ie. one reason is not more valid than another);
  5. the employees and managers understood the procedure, which would begin with what the business requirements were first; then move on to how those would be met within the parameters of the proposed alternative;
  6. the measurement and evaluation of such arrangements were understood to be a prerequisite for the continuation of the alternative arrangement.

Looking back to our poor lying Mom and her angry or baffled colleagues, the “what if” company might now look like this:

  1. committed employee who feels better about her company because she is not forced to lie;
  2. that employee and her co-workers gaining confidence that each is measured on his or her own contribution and deliverables, flexible or conventional;
  3. an employee with elder care issues, or a health problem, or a puppy who’s eating the couch, or a sick child, any and all of them can be as productive as they choose to be, and as productive as they can be with the support of their company, their manager and their colleagues.

Don’t laugh, I’ve seen it happen. I’ve even seen it measured in employee satisfaction surveys, customer satisfaction surveys, commitment and retention studies. The positive results speak to the power of what is possible when FWAs are done right.

It’s amazing what happens when people stop bickering, lying, or making excuses for poor performance, or slow career advancement. In Fortune 500 companies, FWAs can help accomplish better management of work and life. It’s all about tailoring the strategies to the needs of the business first. Teaching employees to take stock of their choices and their goals. When needed, allowing them to use their creativity to find ways to meet the business goals. Engaging them in developing solutions works and has far-reaching benefits for the business and for its employees.