Making the Case for Flexibility, One Manager at a Time

August 21, 2013“Changing Workplaces Changing Lives” is a great goal and mission, and it certainly helps one get out of bed in the morning. But as someone working in research—Catalyst’s “behind the scenes” side—I can tell you I’m not always on the front lines when it comes to seeing that change in action.

As one of the leaders of Catalyst’s internal Work-life Issues Specialty team (WLIST), I have a particular interest in work-life effectiveness. However, my strong feelings about the topic are most often witnessed (and occasionally triggered) by my husband. He works for a Fortune 100 company in a managerial role. It’s a new culture for him, after years spent in the high-stress, long hours, corporate law firm environment, which I like to categorize as “ABB: Always Be Billing.” Not only was my husband’s Blackberry always attached to him in the bad old days; his charger was, too, so there’d be no chance of his being out of touch with his office, ever.

Following Hurricane Sandy, my spouse saw how Catalyst’s flexible work options enabled me to stay in communication and continue working effectively. However, he still viewed Catalyst’s approach as an odd exception rather than a bold new possibility. From early on in the pitch process for Catalyst’s new Flex Works tool, I knew my husband was the audience I was trying to reach.

When Joan C. Williams said in her HBR blog, “It’s not productivity. It’s not innovation.  It’s identity,” she was talking about men like him and people like us: victims of a “never say die” work ethic (or work-devotion schema). This model of behavior has been handed down to us by our parents. We grew up seeing it in action and we were taught to take pride in working hard and having a reputation for doing so. I can’t help but wonder if my dad feels like the overtime he put in and the stress he endured as he sought to avoid the ultimately nonexistent “Y2K” catastrophe was time well spent.

So how do we break these habits, especially when Blackberry addictions are overtly or tacitly endorsed by most employers?

Organizations and managers need to communicate and demonstrate their commitment to flexible work policies, including encouraging a healthy separation between work life and home life. Individuals can and should consider how they can take pride in their work without setting unreasonable standards for themselves and their staff.

And from behind the scenes at Catalyst, I hope that Flex Works and our new study, The Great Debate: Flexibility vs. Face Time, will help organizations and employees worldwide to think more about trust and productivity. I take special pride in knowing that by the time Flex Works was released, one of my husband’s direct reports had been approved and set up to work virtually (and seamlessly) from home on a full-time basis.

The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.