This is the fifth ‘idea’ in our Eight game-changing ideas for women at work series, published over the next two weeks.
If your performance at work was judged on the outcomes you delivered, rather than the amount of time you spent at your desk, how would you structure your week?
Would you be as productive, if not more productive, than how you’re currently working?
Would you be more likely to progress to leadership positions if your career could move up according to what you deliver, as opposed to how consistently you can stay late at the office?
Would you be able to better deliver on ALL the responsibilities and interests you have going on in your life – managing the household, kids, hobbies, education, health and wellbeing – if your life dictated how and when you worked, rather than the other way around?
And would you be better noticed and supported as a ‘flexible worker’ if the men in your office were also pursuing such arrangements?
What if flexible work was the ‘norm’ rather than the exception?
On Women’s Agenda, we believe a great idea for women at work would be to completely rethink our approach to the ‘working week’ and to start creating roles, salaries and job responsibilities that reflect work that is outcome-driven rather than measured according to hours spent in an office. It’s a change we believe will only work if it’s applied to all employees, including leaders in organisations, – rather than a measure that’s merely made available to support ‘working mothers’.
This would require work, but it’s not impossible, even for the largest of employers.
Indeed, over at Telstra, the organisation has recently introduced its ‘All Roles Flex’ initiative, which sees all positions advertised as flexible. That means flexibility in the position is considered as the starting point, and takes into account the individual employee’s needs, rather that imposing a set working structure on the employee.
When this approach was trialled in Telstra’s Customer Sales & Service team, the number of women applying for new positions increased by 15%, while the proportion of women in job placements increased by 35%
Announcing the move in November last year, CEO David Thodey said it was being done to support flexible careers. “What I really like about this approach is that it disrupts the status quo and encourages open conversations right from the start. It empowers people to speak up and discuss how they can make their work and career ambitions fit with their life stage and commitments outside of work,” he said.
Rethinking the ‘working week’ would see an end to positions advertised as either ‘full-time’ or ‘part-time’. It would mean many women — particularly those who are returning to work after having children or who simply want to allow time for something other than work in their life — wouldn’t have to apply for a position worrying about when they should mention they need to work flexibly. It would open the number of potential positions to a much broader range of women. It would see careers progress according to outcomes delivered, rather than hours. It would help in making work something you ‘do’ rather than a place you ‘go’. And it would help mainstream flexible work as simply part of the new, post-technological era normal: a great way of working for both men and women.
Structured working hours — particularly the standardised Monday to Friday, nine to five, working week – is a concept developed a long time ago. Its origins are found in the industrial era, a time when we largely moved from the land into the factories and centralised workplaces.
While we’ve made provisions in the ‘work week’ for religion — the weekend has come to involve ‘rest days’ based on Christian (Sunday) and Jewish (Saturday) traditions – we’ve still not enabled allowances for the major demographic shift that has seen women enter the workforce, and the fact technology has made working whenever and from wherever easier than ever before.
Nor do we account for the fact school hours do not match standard work hours, while in crowded cities it simply does not make sense for a large proportion of the population to be travelling between their homes and workplaces at the same time.
Currently, the Fair Work Act gives employees the right to request flexible working arrangements. However, this provision carries certain eligibility requirements, including the fact you must have worked for your employer for at least the previous 12 months, and that you have a good reason for needing to work flexibly.
This is an improvement on having no such legal rights to make such requests at all, but it doesn’t help in mainstreaming flexible work, nor in ensuring flexible work doesn’t become a career dead-end, as it currently does for many women.
We also don’t believe you should need a ‘good reason’ for working flexibly. Rather, an employer should require a ‘good reason’ for why they need you in the office working strict and set ‘nine to five’ hours.
Make flexible work the ‘norm’ rather than the ‘exception’ and men and women will benefit.