1 Million for Work Flexibility director Emma Plumb recently wrote a piece on LinkedIn called “Fixing Uber’s Failings with a Lesson from Its Successes” that generated a boisterous conversation on work flexibility, tech, gender equity, and business design. In this “Busting the Myths” series, we respond to some of the concerns voiced by readers in the comments section about the practicality of work flexibility. 

“[W]e can’t expect the work world to conform to our choices or desires. We must carve out our own lives and find a way to make it work for us! It is not anyone else’s responsibility to change their entire company for us. Eventually, when enough people opt out and find their own way, companies will have to adjust, and some are doing that now. But in the meantime, we have to live our lives.

“I opted out when we had children & moved away from our families. My husband opted out later, unwilling to be away so much while his children grew up. We started our own business, made many sacrifices along the way and we are happy with where we are now.”
-Michelle McCartan

Is Opting Out a Choice?

When faced with work-life conflict, workers have often accepted that they have only two choices: work, and miss out on important personal moments in their or their families’ lives, or opt out of the workforce altogether. Neither choice is a good one, because both require sacrifices—to career, caregiving, and ultimately, overall well-being.

While it may be true that companies can’t be expected to “conform to our choices or desires,” choosing between work and family isn’t flippant. It also isn’t much of a choice, or a reflection of a desire. While many working parents, particularly working mothers, do off-ramp when they have small children, in many cases it’s a forced decision because they are stuck between having to return to a full-time office job a few weeks post-partum or losing their job entirely.

Workers shouldn’t have to face unemployment lines just because their employers are inflexible. Employers need to take a look at current business models to see if they still work for today’s tech-driven world. It makes sense to look for new solutions that keep employees in the workforce—especially because that can also benefit the bottom line.

The Business Case for Work Flexibility

Today, because they recognize its myriad benefits, more and more companies are offering workplace flexibility—which might be in the form of full-time or part-time telecommuting, job sharing, compressed workweeks, part-time jobs, freelance or contract gigs, and so on. In many cases, workplace flexibility can be built into jobs. If it comes down to talented employees opting out because of inflexible working conditions, or having the ability to have flex (and continue working in their jobs), the latter would make much more sense.

If you have an inflexible job that you don’t want to leave, you should have another choice: the choice to negotiate flexible working conditions. Schedule a meeting with your boss and highlight the various parts of your job that could be done flexibly. Work together to find a resolution. After all, employers don’t want to lose their talent because they have an all-or-nothing, 9-5 workplace mentality. In that circumstance, both sides lose.

Why We Should Voice Our Need for Work Flex

Opting out because a job isn’t flexible isn’t the answer we should blindly accept. Voicing concerns and demonstrating the win/win for employers to have a flexible work policy makes more sense. Rather than having a mass exodus of workers opting out, those same individuals should rally together to demand work flexibility and highlight how it benefits employers just as much as (if not more than) employees. Show employers how they can potentially save an estimated $10,000 annually on real estate alone per telecommuting employee. Highlight how hiring remote workers could mean having operation continuity across time zones. Explain how having flex means that employers get to attract—and retain—their best workers and avoid losing them to the competition.

That way, flexible work will become the rule rather than the exception, and employers reticent to adopt flexible work policies will come to see it as a benefit to them, and not just as something that their workers want.

Flexibility won’t happen in a vacuum. When more people stand up and insist on having workplace flexibility, more companies will offer it. There is power in numbers.

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