Flexible work needs to be good work. It should go without saying… but it doesn’t.
Flexible work has a history of challenges. Part time work is sometimes referred to as ‘career death’ leading to pay and progression stagnation. It can also lead to exclusion on a practical level. The meetings when you aren’t in (unless of course you join anyway even though it isn’t your working day). The stuff no one remembers to update you on.
Then there is there is the issue of work intensification. Trying to fit in what is really a full time job into part time hours. Or working harder just to prove that you are still as committed and motivated even though you want or need to work flexibly. To overcome the bias and the prejudice. Remote work brings its own challenges. Longer working days are a problem for some, for others, blurred boundaries, reduced work life balance and increased work/home conflict. It’s also been found to have a negative impact on progression and earnings.
Let’s not forget the gender issues too. The fact that women who work flexibly generally end of doing more of the domestic labour and childcare; as Professor Heejung Chung says in her recent book, flexible working all too often results in self-exploitation of the person undertaking it.
The pandemic has moved the dial on flexible work, especially in relation to remote work. Interest in other forms of work flexibility, such as a four day week or non-linear working day, is rising too. But if flexible work is also to be good work, we need to do more than implement them and hope for the best. The four day week for example is an admirable aim (who wouldn’t want to work a little less?), but brings with it real risk of creating a new range of problems. The caveat for implementation is often the requirement to maintain productivity, the burden of which is likely to fall on employees unless organisations make significant change to ways of working or technology. And if they don’t, the only way to compress 5 days’ work into 4 is to work harder and with greater intensity.
We know the demand for flexible work is high. We know employees are prepared to move jobs to secure it. But we need not to just provide flexible work, but ensure that it good work too.
Good flexible work will allow employees to progress their careers just the same as those who work in a traditional way.
Good flexible work will not lead to reduced wellbeing.
Good flexible work will not place excessive pressure on employees or result in burnout.
Good flexible work should not be hard to find, or difficult to gain access to.
Good flexible work will be provided on trust, without the need to prove anything.
Good flexible work does not come with remote supervision built in.
Good flexible work will provide employees with autonomy and choice.
Good flexible work will allow a better work life balance – not a reduced one.
Good flexible work considers time and place.
Good flexible work is something we should all work towards.