I first learned about Mom Corps' business model (think headhunter specializing in flexible work/workers) from Nadia McKay, president of Mom Corps Boston. Thinking this could be a terrific resource for those of you sorting through how to have it all, Allison O'Kelly, Mom Corps founder and CEO, shares her thoughts on the types of flexible work options and how to determine if you are ready for a flex arrangement. Enjoy.
I often find myself wondering aloud to friends something along the lines of, “How is it summer already?” To which they typically respond in accord and add their own almost exasperated, “Where does the time go?” Or we share a quick “like” on Facebook of a poignant quote about stopping to smell the roses every now and then. Don’t we just seem to operate at maximum speed … all the time? Rushing in the morning to get everyone where they need to be, squeezing every minute out of the workday, then racing home for dinner and putting the kids in bed (if you have them), before jumping back on email to finish the day.
That takes its toll on a person. More and more we feel challenged by the collective pressures of a demanding work life, a hectic personal life, and a desire to find fulfillment in both. The resulting effect is that the quality of each suffers in different and myriad ways. But this doesn’t have to be the case. We don’t have to sacrifice professional standing, career advancement or salary in order to have a little more control over our time.
The paths of professional success and personal fulfillment are still very detached and that the conversation around work and family need to more effectively come together. Perhaps we are just in that awkward stage of progress where one piece (our personal lives) has evolved past the other (our work lives), and the latter has to catch up with the times. Research proves again and again that unhealthy work/life alignment is detrimental to employees’ personal development, physical and mental health, relationships and overall home life. But the solution isn’t just going to land in our laps – this is one of those things we need to go out and change.
Traditional family care issues have been the most prevalent and publicized reasons driving the trend toward alternative flexible work options—dropping off and picking up children at school, tending to the needs of elderly parents, staying home to care for ill dependents, and the like. But as of late, the desire to have more control over our time goes well beyond familial commitments. For example, the elder workforce is choosing to continue working an altered schedule instead of retirement. Some workers want the time to attend post-graduate or certification classes, or need the time to work a second job. It can be a quality of life choice for those who prefer to shift hours to circumvent long commutes. And for others, especially the younger set, lifestyle flexibility is simply their modus operandi.
But often the fear of a “no” or even just the possibility of a rejection keeps professionals from asking for what they want and need out of their work lives. How do you know if flexible work options are something that makes sense for you? Here are two key points to consider when determining the right path:
Know what flexible works options are and what is available
Come prepared with what works for you and your organization
Know your options: I find that many professionals do not realize just how many different styles encompass a non-traditional work set-up. Referred to as alternative work options, flexibility, innovative career design, and the like, these programs can take on many forms. At Mom Corps, we choose to think of it within the parameters of time, place and duration. Here are some possible scenarios for each one:
Time: A work team decided to extend its workday to offer customers extended availability and allows employees to choose a shift that best suits them; two managers job share a position so the company can capitalize on the ideas and output from two proven employees; everyone gets Half-Day Fridays in the summer.
Place: An employee works two days a week from another office closer to home; the firm can employ a leading industry expert who lives in another state by agreeing on a virtual work arrangement; a department manager has decided that each team member can work from home one day a week and designs a team schedule that everyone helps create.
Duration: A company hires a temporary employee with a specific expertise to fill in for an executive on leave; a leadership team keeps its retiring CEO on a permanent, part-time contract basis leveraging his institutional knowledge; a firm temporarily adds to its accounting/finance department for tax season.
This framework provides a useful context in which to frame a conversation with managers so they understand the various solutions that can constitute a flex-friendly, productive workplace.
Teach yourself and come prepared: There is no one-size-fits-all approach—that would assume everyone has the same life, the same familial responsibilities, the same work preferences, the same productivity schedules, etc. Instead, be thoughtful about why you want or need to incorporate a flexible aspect to your work day. Will it give you two extra hours with your kids by not having to commute? Are the cost savings significant especially given rising fuel costs? Will a few hours a week of focused quiet time outside an active work environment allow you to be more productive?
Then check with HR before speaking with your manager to see if there is a flexible work plan in place—some companies have one, but choose not publicize it. Also, explore if other employees within the organization are participating in alternative schedules and learn what has worked and what hasn’t.
Finally, identify what your job and work environment will comfortably allow you to do – this Flexible Work Arrangement Self-Assessment Questionnaire from WorldAtWork is a useful tool for getting started. By also thinking about what is a workable arrangement for your organization, your team and your specific role, you will have a more solid case to present.
Approaching the boss about work alternatives does not have to be a daunting proposition, nor does it mean you aren’t committed to your job. Extensive studies have shown that having more flexibility or simply a modicum of control over their schedule makes employees more productive, more content and better able to meet both personal and professional needs. Go out and ask for it!
Have you thought about flexible work?
Allison O’Kelly is founder/CEO of Mom Corps, a national professional staffing firm with a focus on flexible work. Launched in 2005, Mom Corps has helped champion the view that flexibility is a benefit to not only professionals but to the companies that employ them. Follow us at @MomCorps and @AllisonOKelly.