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The Parent Trap: could flexible work solutions provide an escape?

The Parent Trap: could flexible work solutions provide an escape?

Parenting and work often feels incompatible -- what with kids' sick days, projects, last-minute meetings that clash with pre-school pickups, soccer games, ballet classes, and the whole pumping-at-the-office thing - but working outside of the home is a necessity for most parents. Could flexible working be the answer to making the balancing act easier?

The challenge most of us will face at some point in our adult lives is that of balancing our household responsibilities, parenting and work life. Today’s employers are having to come to terms with the fact that the majority of people in the workforce are going to become parents at some point.

Supporting them throughout that transition (and beyond!) lets companies keep valuable talent and helps employees do their best work. An engaged, committed workforce has been proven to be better for business performance.

Millennials are not kids anymore and they are entering the workforce, but they are not ready to give up the rest of their lives to do so. They are entering the workforce at a time in which technology has made it possible to fulfil work obligations without being chained to a desk, and they’re willing to speak up for what they want and to leave if they can’t find it.

“Given that Millennials will make up the majority of workers in the next five years, employers are taking note and looking to flexible working as a solution”, says Joanne Bushell, Country Manager for IWG, South Africa, the largest flexible workspace provider in Africa and globally.

What is flexible working?

Flexible working or flexi-time is the practice where traditional working hours become variable. For example, when a worker is not required to work a standard 9am to 5pm day, but can choose hours before or after this time frame to complete a day's work.

This includes flexible locations i.e. Being able to work remotely with your team, from home or from a suitable location such as a flexible workspace nearer to home. Regus has successfully placed itself across Africa and the world, at an affordable cost, modifying its offerings to suit each individual - whether a start-up or large corporate – as no two people thrive in the same environment. Companies need to be agile in today’s working world.

The South African context

R44bn – That’s been said to be the number flexible working hours would save South African commuters a year, by reducing the time and money spent on getting to and from work. It would enhance productivity and foster a healthier work-life balance for employees – many of whom are desperate to spend more quality time with their children.

A recent study by Citrix and the London-based Centre for Economics and Business Research found that South Africa could add R17 billion a year to its economy if more companies introduced flexi-time or remote working, rather than the traditional nine to five, office-based working day. This option is being made increasingly possible thanks to technology, the authors say.

Happy employees, happy bottom-line

South Africans with children are less content with life than their childless peers, the recent World Happiness Report has found. But, says a local expert, this doesn’t automatically mean our kids are making us unhappy. According to Johannesburg Clinical Psychologist Ruth Ancer, a complex bouquet of factors is causing South African parents of all socioeconomic groups to feel stressed.

“It’s not necessarily that people are not deriving joy from having children, but that they are more anxious about being able to provide for them. But the focus is on the here and now for those with no kids,” she says. Ancer says if the average person is worrying about something, such as money, and if they have children, it’s harder for them to be happy. This is because of the potential effect on their future wellbeing.

Millennials

It seems expectations related to work-life integration are greater than in previous generations. Even if they don’t have children yet, Millennials are most likely including it into their near future plan. Their eyes are on companies that will allow them to position themselves to be able to have a career and know they’ll be looked after they have children.

Millennials who can’t find a company job that will give them the flexibility they need or want often to ditch their jobs entirely, opting to use their skills in the gig economy to craft a career that may have less advancement potential but is more malleable in the short term.

Such arrangements allow Millennial workers to keep their resumes fresh and build their network on their own terms. For freelancers, there’s a much lower barrier to entry when it comes to getting back to work after having a child, which opens up more flexible career opportunities.

What about men?

In a recent survey, 8 out of 1000 men surveyed had flexible working schedules and felt comfortable using flexitime and working away from the office. And a large number (80 percent) of men are more comfortable with mom as the primary breadwinner and 39 percent preferring to be stay-at home dads.

Those who did not have flexible work options, were less satisfied with their career growth, training and development opportunities and remuneration. They even felt less support from home to accomplish work tasks.

There’s also plenty of desire for these changes among both men and women. This is where the findings really get interesting. Men say, in the Working Mother survey, for example, that both parents should equally share child care (88 percent) and chores (83 percent), and they report allocating the time saved by working-from-home to caregiving and household responsibilities.

But, flexibility it can have its drawbacks. The men in the study who reported being the most stressed — even more so than men not using flexi-time or telecommuting — were the fathers who worked from home full-time. Most said they felt isolated and unable to escape work, while also sensing that because they worked from home, their job commitment was being questioned by others. Women have been reporting this problem for a long time.

Flexible workspaces could provide the balance……

Businesses that possess the foresight to provide employees with flexible working opportunities are more likely to retain the talented, empowered, individuals who are currently entering the workforce as well as those in the workforce for whom family is becoming more important.

Parents who are able to work all or most of their week from a location near their home, make for happier, more productive employees who will often accept a reduced compensation, for the opportunity to have a better work-life balance.

And it levels the playing field for men and women who want to build their career without detriment to the family unit.

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