Career suicide to work flexibly? Depends...

The General Counsel at Carnival Australia, the largest cruising company in the Asia Pacific, works three days a week.

CEO Ann Sherry told Women's Agenda readers as much during our breakfast last Thursday, when she was asked by an audience member if it was "career suicide to work part-time".

"That depends," Sherry quickly responded, "On where you work".

It would not be a problem at Carnival, she added, listing a number of senior positions that are currently being filled flexibly. Carnival Australia has doubled in growth since Sherry took the CEO position in 2007 and is continuing to grow 20% every year. Clearly, the company culture is working. 

Sherry puts it down to attracting the right people, something that can only be done with a variety of work options on the table. It's a great case study in the value of offering genuine flexible work options -- especially at the very senior management level. 

Most major corporates have long had policies in place to support part-time and flexible work.

However, many still do not promote such policies, nor present them as career advancing options. For many, they've been seen as a means for parking your career for a period, while the kids are still small, or you're growing the business, or managing something else personal on the side.

But increasingly part-time and flexible working options are moving away from being a necessity for a certain segment of employees, to being a very attractive option for a much larger part of the workforce. Combine both these parts of the workforce and it's simply too powerful to ignore.

According to recent research from recruiter Robert Half, workplace flexibility is now the biggest issue for both male and female senior employees who're considering changing roles. The 2015 Robert Half Salary Guide found that flexibility is now more popular than remuneration, career advancement and corporate culture when it comes to key deciding factors for senior staff who're thinking about changing roles. 

This is a group whose time cannot simply be bought. They're looking for much more attractive incentives from perspective employers, and those employers will need to innovate around work practices in order to keep up. What good is a great paycheque if you never have time to enjoy it? Or worse, if you have to sacrifice time with family and doing the things you love in order to bring home such an income?

Thankfully, such innovation shouldn't be too difficult. The concept of full-time working hours was largely developed during the industrial era, where factory work made 'going' to a place of work for a certain period every day a necessity. Many of us now work in front of computer screens or on a phone, and have access to such devices at home. We also have the infrastructure available -- remote access availability, video conferencing facilities and everything else needed to create a virtual office.

So are organisations finally catching on?

The Robert Half research suggests one if four Australian and New Zealand companies have increased their options for workplace flexibility in response to concerns their tops performers will leave. Meanwhile, it also found 64% of Australian businesses reported seeing an increase in productivity through greater flexibility.

It's not only the large corporates seeing the benefits: the survey also finds 38% of small businesses now see the benefits of working flexibly too.

This is the mainstreaming of flexible work happening right now, and it's great news for women.

It's no longer "career suicide" to work flexibly, as long as you're with the right employer. Increasingly, we're going to see more such employers on the side of right in the future.

Angela Priestley

Angela Priestley is the Publisher and founding editor of Women's Agenda. She's an author, journalist and passionate advocate for workplace gender equality and diversity. Her first book is Women Who Seize the Moment.

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