Breaking Down Stereotype #6–Even though my company supports it, it really isn’t “okay” to use flexibility

Please excuse my absence last week, but sadly we just found out that my mother’s Stage 4 lung cancer has returned. While we aren’t sure exactly what this means, I will share in my Success Magazine blog posting later this week how I’ve begun to rethink my work+life fit and revisit my definition of success in order to support her.

Work+Life “Fit” Blog: Breaking Down Stereotypes #6 – Even though my company supports it, it really isn’t “okay” to use flexibility

Drum roll, please…the final work+life stereotype we will break down is: “Even though my company supports it, it really isn’t okay to use flexibility.” This is the reason 32% of the Work+Life Fit Reality Check survey respondents gave for not improving their work-life “balance.”

Over the past decade, I have heard this excuse countless times and it continues to fascinate me, because there are usually no facts to back it up. Notice the survey question begins, “Even though my company supports it.” In other words, this belief prevails even when a company has offered flexibility and other programs or policies to help its employees achieve work-life “balance.” Furthermore, I often hear experts commenting on the subject of work-life “balance,” say the answer is that, “Companies have to do more,” but what if they are and employees aren’t using it?

We, individually, need to move beyond this belief and meet our employers halfway if we are ever going to find mutually-beneficial work+life fit solutions. This is especially true if our employer has extended a hand. Otherwise, each of us will stay in our respective corners waiting for the other to “go first.” And nothing will change.

Here’s the Proof

This is a true story. I recently asked a senior level leader to kick off a session for managers I was conducting for a corporate client. Initially, Jim hesitated, wondering what value he would add. But I assured him his presence would make a difference.

In addition being the head of his division and a Board member of the company, Jim is a passionate advocate for flexibility. In his division, many people have a wide variety of flexibility, both formal and informal, to manage their work and life. He truly 100% gets it.

In his introduction to the morning’s session, Jim explained in detail why he believed flexibility was a critical business management strategy, and then handed it off to me and sat in the back of the room. Sure enough, a few minutes later, one of the managers put his hand up and said, “This is great and everything, but I think I need to see a little more senior leadership support and buy-in.” I looked at the senior leader in the back of the room who had just spent 15 minutes highlighting his own very visible commitment, as well as the firm’s commitment. And we both started to laugh. I asked, “Jim, would you like to say something?” He came back up to the front and said, “I’m not sure what else I can do to convince you we are serious and committed beyond what I have already said here today and done in our group.”

What’s the Problem?

Jim was right. What else could he or his company do? At some point, it’s up to the individuals in an organization—both managers and employees—to step forward and do their part to make flexibility and work-life “balance” a successful reality. But they don’t. In part because they believe, “Even though my company supports it, it really isn’t okay.”

What’s behind this belief? Fear. Fear of change, which is so hard for everyone. Here’s how I break down the responses I’ve gotten when I present the Work+Life Fit Partnership Model for successful flexibility:
• 10% immediately get it and want to move forward
• 70% aren’t sure what they think, it makes sense but is a big change
• 20% reject the whole concept immediately, sometimes getting visibly angry

In other words, 90% of people are fearful, albeit some more than others, when presented with the fact that in order to manage work and life in today’s 24/7, global, high-tech work reality they need to play an active role in setting boundaries in partnership with their employer. Why? Because it’s a big change from how we have traditionally managed work and life, from when our company told us where those standardized boundaries were. We aren’t sure how to do it. We aren’t sure if it’s safe to do it. We aren’t sure what it means for our career (see the other five work-life stereotypes). So, it’s easier to say, “Even though my company supports it, it isn’t okay to use it,” than to take the next steps.

What’s the New Mindset?

Whether or not your company publicly supports flexibility, take the initiative in partnership with your employer to create, negotiate and implement a work+life “fit” that meets your needs and the needs of the business.

Make sure you aren’t letting all of the fears and stereotypical beliefs we have covered over the past few weeks keep you stuck in your corner, unwilling to meet your employer halfway.

There will never be a day when your manager comes to your desk and says, “Susan, I’ve noticed you are having some work+life challenges, so I’ve taken the liberty to come up with a plan for flexibility that considers all of your unique work and personal realities. I guarantee it will be successful, that there won’t be any issues we’ll have to work out along the way. You won’t have to redefine success for yourself even if you want to reduce your schedule for a period of time because you can continue to be paid and advance as if you are working full-time. And, I guarantee the business won’t change so that you won’t have to adjust your flexibility.”

Yes, there are unknowns along the way that could affect your work+life fit. All of these can be dealt with as they come up. But there are many more potential positive outcomes from using flexibility. Step out of your corner and do your part, especially if your employer has said it will meet you in the middle, because there really is nothing more they can do than that.

Take this “Generations in the Workplace” Survey Conducted by the Downtown Women’s Club

3 thoughts on “Breaking Down Stereotype #6–Even though my company supports it, it really isn’t “okay” to use flexibility

  1. I am so sorry to hear about your mother’s cancer. I’ve been there, and, had to work at the same time, thank you for sharing this with us.

  2. Cali:
    I think what you’re encountering is a lot of distrust, a lot of which has merit. While companies say they support flex-time and such (a 2005 Families and Work Institute survey found that 72% of people said managers at their workplaces were encouraged to assess performance by what people accomplished, not face time), only a third of respondents in that same study said management rewarded those who supported flexible arrangements. In other words, you’re not going to get ahead in most companies by being the manager who allows flex-time. Instead, you’ll be constantly explaining yourself. The smartest managers may still take on that challenge. But many won’t. I also recently reviewed a book called Selling Women Short that documented discrimination in career management for women on Wall Street. Working moms did not work appreciably fewer hours than dads or single women, but they were perceived as less available, and so given less demanding assignments that would get them on top management radar. This showed up in earnings. Cultures change slower than rules. Laura

  3. No surprise to me that individuals are resistant to change — even if the change is positive. As a financial planner managing our clients’ careers as a financial asset, we use “work life fit” as a strategy to extend the career life. Most of our clients expect that their employer will not support their work life vision/plan even though the company has a stated program.

    This disbelief along with financial fear has paralyzed a number of my clients from taking action. That is where I think a financial planner and career coach can facilitate change by helping the individual overcome these roadblocks.

    I could not agree with you more that it is the employee who is responsible for their career its management even though their employer is a stakeholder in that career. Employing a career coach and planner who use Work+Life Fit as part of their services is an investment in optimizing the career asset.

    I appreciate your work in this area.

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