Careers Insight: Changing workplace dynamics

By offering ‘dynamic working’, organisations can give all staff a fairer deal to help them achieve a better work-life balance

Despite my commitment to gender parity in financial services, I’m equally keen to write about men in the workplace and the challenges they face.

Furthermore, as a director of people development my ‘cause’ is people and my ‘mission’ the equality of all in terms of pay, opportunities, benefits and rights.

Men seem to have the upper hand in terms of salaries, opportunities and senior positions, but what about other issues such as work-life balance and the right and opportunity to fulfil their role as a family member, parent or even carer? These seem to have a more ‘feminine’ edge about them: they’re perhaps not things that men talk about, would campaign about or even expect to be given assistance in achieving.

Things are changing but flexible working (let’s call it dynamic working) remains labelled as largely a benefit and need for women. It’s women who want and need part-time hours, want to do the school run, need to balance domestic, caring and work commitments.

Really? While these benefits and allowances may indeed be desired by women, equally they may be the perfectly natural desire of men too. Caring for family members and providing domestic support are not exclusively of interest to and the right of women.

Why shouldn’t men want to, and be able to, drop off their children at school, take time out to care for elders or have dynamic working conditions that allow them to balance their commitment to work with other priorities in their lives?

By removing the label of dynamic working as a women’s issue and right, it would immediately solve two problems: everybody would have access to better work-life balance, and gender parity would be massively enhanced, or even achieved.

In a previous career, I had, as a mother, to endure the guilt, embarrassment and discomfort of leaving meetings early, making arrangements around school commitments and dashing off with unfinished work stuffed in my bag. However, if the right to dynamic working was made available to all who needed it, it would become de-stigmatised and seen as a bona fide entitlement, just like not working on a Bank Holiday. More importantly, it would be regarded as a positive thing and not merely a ‘problem’ of one group in society.

Research evidence

On to the research, which, interestingly, supports my theory that men do seek opportunities for better work-life balance but are of the belief that they don’t have the right to ask for such ‘privileges’ for fear of the consequences. It was staggering to read some recent research reported by the BBC that suggested 44 per cent of dads had lied about family-related responsibilities.

Furthermore, dads who want to be more involved in the care of their children actually fear that asking for more flexibility in their working patterns may damage their career and prospects. There is also a suggestion that fathers who ask for time out and flexibility in order to meet family commitments risk their employers questioning their commitment to their job.

So the change must be a cultural one, and it must come from the top. Businesses must regard work-life balance as important for all and at least begin discussions about how a dynamic working policy could apply in their organisation.

I am a working parent who benefits from a dynamic working pattern but I am committed to ensuring that this discussion is opened up even further. We have employees who care for elder or disabled relatives and those with chronic conditions.

We also have staff who have family members with special needs and we have many fathers with young families. This is probably typical of any working environment and yet most organisations do not have a Dynamic Working policy.

In the research mentioned earlier, it was reported that a huge cause of stress among men was the inability to achieve a work-life balance. Therefore, in committing to ensure a healthier, happier, more equal workforce, it is surely time for organisations to take a serious look at working conditions and how all ‘people’, as a collective, can be given a fairer deal.

Clare Jupp is director of people development at Brightstar