Get our weekly newsletter

« Second Chances: Cheese Kugel and Brookie Recipes | Main | Scanning Social Media for Snow and Storm Stories »

Wednesday, January 26, 2011



I'm lucky that I am lawyer in the government, and I work a 20 hour a week schedule, but I think law, in general, does not necessarily lend itself to flexible scheduling.


Workplace flexibility means having a partner at home who will absorb at least 50% of the responsibility for work/life balance. Sick days, day care pick-up, all of it. Imagine if employers only had to meet us halfway because we had that much less on our plates?

Plus, it's not a "mommy track" if men are on it too.


I work in the non-profit world, where you would assume there is more flexibility and balance available, and more sympathy for the working parent. And I've been very lucky, because I have found that to be mostly true. However, I took one job (after my second child was born) precisely because I wanted to work three days a week, and the Executive Director thought he was willing to be a family-friendly workplace. He wanted to hire me because of my experience in the field, knowing that I wanted part-time work, and he couldn't afford to pay someone with my experience a full-time salary.

But from my first day on the job, there was resentment and a feeling that I wasn't pulling my weight (and there were other working parents in the office, including the ED.) I felt like I was being forced to revert to a full-time schedule so that I would fit in with the ethos of the office. Eventually, I moved to a 4-day week, but it never quite felt right. I wound up getting pregnant with my third child in that job (and they only offered two weeks of maternity leave - another myth of the non-profit world), and although I planned to go back to the job after maternity leave, three weeks after my son was born was 9/11, and I looked up from the couch where I was nursing him and watching the world tumble down and I told my husband that I was not going back to an office job and leaving my three young children at home.

I have been consulting ever since, and although it started out as very part-time and has now ratcheted up to almost full-time work as my kids get older, it is still the most wonderfully flexible way I know to work. There are trade offs - including not always knowing when your next paycheck is coming, never being able to leave your work at work, and losing the sense of camaraderie an office job can offer -- but I am almost always in charge of my schedule, and can be very present in my kids' lives. Plus I really like being my own boss. I am very lucky.

Thanks for a thought provoking post.

Cali Williams Yost

While much progress has been made to make flexibility in the workplace part of the cultural conversation, the next step does involve figuring out how to make it real and viable for more individuals and in more organizations. Managers do indeed play a key role.

Michele Dortch

I've been out of the traditional workforce for a number of years, but my experience then is exactly as you described it here Kathleen. And from what I hear from my working mom friends still immersed in corporate life, not much has changed.

I've discovered that while organizations speak of work/life flexibility as a value, that isn't translated to the managerial/departmental level where day-to-day decisions are made. So, a big challenge is aligning organizational values/expectations with managerial behaviors/actions. The best way to bring alignment is though accountability. If an organization truly believes work/life flex is a core value, then all employees -- from top leadership to frontline employees -- must be accountable for seeing that value realized in the workplace. For some organizations, that means tying work/life metrics to performance reviews and compensation.

It's sounds simple, but organizations are complex so it will take time to see true change and unfortunately, most organizations (and the people involved in them) as just too impatient and give up too soon.

Thanks for a great post Kathleen. I agree that flexibility depends primarily on your own manager and the culture in your sphere of an organization. In the battle between well-intentioned policies and the unwritten rules of any workplace, unwritten rules win every time. I think accountability is part of it. At the same time, this is largely about shifting attitudes and beliefs of individuals and the culture of the organization. So I think it also needs an approach that shows people how it can be, gives them explicit instructions about how to go about it, and helps them safely surface the assumptions they have as managers that keep them from implementing flexibility. And it needs symbolism - like senior execs who model flex themselves and with their employees, public rewarding employees who are on using alternative work arrangements, and even grand gestures like selecting a week where EVERYONE in the organization is asked to flex at least one half-day by working from home, coming in late/early/taking several hours mid day, etc.
Kristin Maschka


Seems it's all about a shift in culture. But in order for that to happen there needs to be the most elementary shift in mind-set. Face time does not equal productivity or accountability by default.

But for transformation to occur, stick and generate a more productive workforce where flexibility is honored, perhaps we can look to the three points that emerged from the POTUS' SOTU address and apply them to workplace flexibility:

Innovation: Companies must take the time to create and implement flexibility policies within their organizations. They need to think way outside of the box and get input from their employees.

Infrastructure: There needs to be a culture shift within these organizations and the policies need to reflect the new mindset. The conversations need to occur to spur ideas.

Education: Managers and employees need to be educated on the best way to implement flexibility practices on an individual level. The guidelines might be the same but the outcomes will be different for every employee.

As my colleague @CaliYost says - it's about work life fit, it's not one-size-fits-all.

Video Conferencing Mom

Excellent thoughts on the subject of workplace flexibility! If you are planning to approach this concept with teleworking in mind, as a video conferencing consultant, I can tell you that there are so many new web based tools available today. With this, how do you decide which system is best for you? In a word – security. How do you know which systems are the most secure? For starters, the U.S. Federal Government has set forth some very strict standards for the assurance of true end-to-end security in the form of their NIST FIPS 140-2 Certification list. There are currently four (4) vendors who have met these standards, and only (1) of them is web based. What this means to you is that home based workers can turn their existing laptop/desktop, equipped with a simple webcam, into a sophisticated virtual meeting workstation...for less than $30.00 per month.

Some features that you can expect are: 1) UNLIMITED meetings at a single monthly cost; 2) HD video/CD quality audio; 3) Desktop sharing; 4) Both recording and playback of an unlimited number of events at no additional charge; 5) SECURE instant messaging; 6) Whiteboarding; and 7) Voting/Polling.

Again, all of these features should be available with no additional hardware required, except for a simple webcam!


Great post Kathleen — flexibility is exactly what working moms are looking for (and unfortunately aren’t getting)! I consider myself lucky to be at, a company that is not only offering that flexibility for our employees but helping other companies find that balance as well. Our company was actually founded by a working mother who was experiencing the strain of finding trustworthy care options to address the lifecycle of a family's care needs—including child care, tutoring, pet care, senior care and housekeeping. She knew that by ensuring that loved ones are taken care of, employees are better able to focus at work free of worry about family care obligations. For companies looking to bring this flexibility back to their corporate environment, feel free to reach out to me and the team at Visit, and click on "Employer Program" in the upper right hand corner.

The comments to this entry are closed.