Workplace flexibility

When I was in university, I walked into my apartment one night after work and my oldest son, just a baby at the time, was asleep for the night. I was going to school full time and working six nights a week at two different jobs, and because I had to walk most days from home to Saint Mary’s, a lot of the time I left before the baby got up and only returned home when he was sleeping again. It was a very difficult few years, and I wanted to quit more times than I can tell you, but especially that night. I felt like I hadn’t seen my own kid in a week.

The worst part was, I was not working jobs that allowed me any flexibility. Such is the life of working in restaurants, bars, and night clubs – you work nights. And as a student employee, I wasn’t really in a position to be picky about my schedule, so I had to make do.

I find myself in a completely different situation in this, a completely different stage of my life. I work part-time while my husband holds the title of breadwinner, allowing me the time I need to manage a busy household. Having spent many tiring, inflexible years without a light visible at the end of the tunnel, I count my blessings every day that I have the ability to be home when I need to be.

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Twenty years ago, the definition of flexibility for working parents was asking a manager for a reduced or special schedule, which put that person squarely in the “received special treatment” category amongst their co-workers. Today, flexibility is much more common, since employers understand the difference it can make in a working parent’s life.

Parents who don’t have flexibility struggle every day with holding jobs and raising their children, like I did when I was younger, and often quit when they are unable to sort out the conflicts. Shift changes, babysitter issues, unexpected illnesses all present challenges, and without understanding employers it can be a source of incredible stress.

And at the same time as I understand how valuable it is for someone to have flexibility in their job, I can’t help but see how that flexibility can present a problem for others. Employers can’t be expected to absorb the cost of giving their employees a lot of time off, especially when an absence leaves them short-staffed or otherwise negatively affects productivity. It’s one thing for someone to leave an hour early once in a blue moon, but it would be hard for an employer to accommodate someone whose availability doesn’t jibe with the required work hours.

Not only that, but employees who don’t require any flexibility can be extremely, and rightfully, resentful toward employees who do. I have been in work situations where someone was constantly given evenings off so they could be home to put their kids in bed, and the employees without kids would always be scheduled for the evening shifts. Those employees would wonder aloud why someone with kids got preferential treatment, and why their commitments weren’t as important as someone else’s just because they didn’t involve children. Putting myself in their shoes, it’s easy to see how they would be upset.

Flexibility at work can come in many forms these days, depending on the job. It could be staying at work a few hours late if you’re going to be late coming in because one of your kids has to go to the dentist. It could be working from home once a week if you can’t make child care arrangements, or taking work home if you have to leave early. Maybe it’s just combining all your breaks and lunch to run over to a parent-teacher conference. There are many configurations that can be arranged assuming all parties are willing to compromise.

This goes not only for working parents, but for all employees trying to achieve a good work-life balance. An employee who feels valued and accommodated at work will be loyal, productive, and happier than someone who is stressed out and under the impression that their job is preventing them from enjoying the important moments in their life. As the saying goes, “People who feel appreciated will always do more than expected.”