Flexible friend or foe? Don’t demonise your staff

I heard a story recently about a woman who pretended she had a young child just so she had a pretext for leaving work early when she wanted to. If women with children have the right to request flexible working, then why shouldn’t the child-free be allowed similar rights, she said. Her view was if you can’t beat them, then you might as well join them.

It’s not clear how many more women might be driven to such deception, but this behaviour is symptomatic of a new kind of discontent in the workplace.

Over the last decade women’s satisfaction levels at work have dropped by 3% for full-timers and 8% for part-timers. It’s ironic that at a time when women have more employment rights than ever they are less satisfied.

It’s even more ironic that women working part-time – the ones taking advantage of flexible working rights – are the unhappiest.

This could be because women who choose to work part-time fear their career prospects are hindered, as some company cultures still view part-time working as part-time commitment. But some HR commentators suggest that flexible working policies themselves are breeding discontented staff.

Just a few weeks ago, we reported that business bosses were beginning a backlash against flexible working. The signs are that trouble is brewing within the workplace too.

Like the woman with the imaginary child, resentment is building among those who don’t have an automatic right to request flexible working and feel they have to work harder than colleagues who do.

Companies shouldn’t run the risk of making working mothers feel bad because they take advantage of flexible working. But neither should employers ignore the needs of everyone else.

HR has to take the lead on this or flexible working could have a negative impact on the very people it is designed to benefit.


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