I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of flexibility in the workplace and how to think about it more creatively to suit all parties involved. I think for most of us who work flexibly this often means, part-time. In other words, fewer hours but operating under the same rules and structures that govern full time employees. How flexible is this in reality? It may suit us in some ways, but does it really enable the best outcome for employee and employer? What do I mean by this? Well consider the following…
I’m proud to be part of the Henley Careers team at Henley Business School who, back in September, hosted a conference on the future world of work that turned the concept of work, employees and the relationship between the two, on its head. The future is going to look very different; AI, robots, automation, changing psychological contracts, a ferociously fast pace of change. How should we prepare ourselves and adapt to deal with this new world?
Most of the students at Henley Business School I speak to are no longer looking for a job or career for that matter. They haven’t been for a while now. They’re looking for an experience, a meaningful experience that gives them a sense of purpose, is aligned to their values and their strengths, and enables a work life balance of their own choosing.
I recently caught sight of the new Nike ad, the content of which I couldn’t ignore. Whilst it caused some controversy, I physically felt myself stand taller as I watched it, hovering over the kitchen worktop with my 12 year old son. It made me think about how crazy my ambitions are and whether I can reach higher, be better, or make a greater impact. And if it’s not me, then maybe my son can. I don’t want the nature of his “employment relationship” in the future to stifle his dreams.
You may also have seen lots of commentary lately on the topic of side hustles and chaotic careers, all of which requires us (employer and employees) to be more flexible in our approach to work.
As a busy working parent with a permanent part-time contract and my own coaching business and a young family (not sure what category of work you put that into!), I’m always grappling to find the right kind of approach to work to enable me to feel like I’m adding value professionally and personally, I’m using my strengths, honouring my values, I’m clear about my sense of purpose and living a life that has meaning. I know we can’t always have it all, I’m not that naïve, but in this future world of change and ambiguity it must be in both the employer and employee’s interest to start thinking creatively about what working flexibly actually means.
I’m lucky enough to have one of the most forward-thinking line managers I’ve ever known, someone who loves to destroy the traditional rule books and continually push the boundaries of what’s possible. It makes it very easy for me to have a conversation with her about my approach to work and what my version of flexibility might look like and to experiment with a few options for a while. I can’t tell you how much more committed and motivated I feel because of our employer/employee relationship. The days of presenteeism and set working hours are long gone. All parties should be seeking to understand whether we’re gaining value from our employment relationship, in all senses of the word.