It’s the bane of pretty much every working parent – attempting to juggle working commitments with attending sports carnivals, book week parade, swimming carnivals, choir performances, assemblies; the list goes on and on.
It can feel like a losing battle, for everyone.
Don’t go to the school carnival because you’re snowed under at work, and your child ends up winning their year level. This isn’t a situation I am ever likely to find myself in, given the current sporting prowess of my children, but a friend texted me this morning to say she had missed her daughter winning literally everything because she just couldn’t take time off work.
Then of course, there are the employees without childcare responsibilities who feel frustrated when they look around to see the empty desks and feel as though they are required to pick up the slack.
Or those employees who may not have childcare responsibilities – but do look after elderly parents or their menagerie of animals and wonder why they never get time off.
Or those that feel that if you should have thought these things through before you had children. (I have to say that assemblies and athletics carnivals were about the last thing I was thinking about when considering whether to have kids!)
Many employers do want to give flexibility, but wonder if they ever really get it back? And what about those workplaces that have production lines, where it is almost impossible to stop the line for a couple of hours, or the service stations staffed by only one person.
The collision of life and work is hard.
So, what to do?
Firstly, we need to stop looking at this as an issue that affects just working parents and start looking at what we all need as employers and employees.
Maybe there is room for an approach that recognises that there are times that we may all need time away from work to attend to life outside of work stuff. Whether that is being with a sick pet, taking an elderly parent to a medical appointment, or yes, cheering your child from the sidelines.
To those that say that you come to work to do just that – there is a significant body of research that now shows that flexibility in the workplace offers the following benefits:
- increased innovation and creativity;
- increased productivity;
- cost savings;
- increased skills utilisation;
- increased motivation;
- lower absenteeism and turnover; and
- increased overall organisational performance
Benefits to employees include: savings of time and money, enhanced productivity, innovation and skills utilisation, work life balance and increased well being- both psychological and physical.
Of course there are some employers and workplaces where this happens as a matter of course. Where there is both flexibility for employees and an employer who feels that this is a two way street, and that what they give in flexibility – they get back in other ways.
The next step is to show those other employers that by not allowing flexibility – they are missing the potential to improve on a whole lot of organisational indicators, including making more money!
But just adding extra entitlements to employees isn’t necessarily the answer. It’s not about employees getting more. But rather, that what’s already there is looked at through a more flexible lens. That there is give and take both ways. That flexibility given by the employer is acknowledged and reciprocated by employees.
Flexibility requires a bit of a leap of faith on behalf of employers. Sometimes, they have been burnt before. Sometimes, it all just seems too hard.
What we know though, is that life in all its delicious messiness is unlikely to get simpler in the near future.
We need to get our heads around this.
We need to find a way to allow employees to have a life, and for employers to get the most of their employees. Approaching work flexibly offers that, but it takes a willingness to look at the issue square on, to think a bit outside the box and to consider the implications for our workplaces if we can’t get our heads around it.