Workplace Flexibility: If You Can’t Have it All, What’s Close Enough?

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Aug 26, 2010

When I left Hewitt, I knew it’d be hard to find another company as flexible.

During my time there I’d worked traditional hours, compressed hours, and an altered full-time schedule of 7 am to 3 pm. Unwilling to compromise on flexibility and creative, challenging, and rewarding work, I chose to start my own firm and create my chances. So far, so good.

I’m one of many.

As David Leonhardt wrote recently in The New York Times:

Taking the next step toward workplace equality probably has to start with an acknowledgment that most parents can’t have it all—at least as long as part-time work, flexible schedules and long leaves do so much career damage.

A growing number of parents already seem to have come to this conclusion. That’s one reason for the rise in the number of mothers who have dropped out of the labor force. Lacking good part-time job options, more are choosing full-time parenting.”

Leonhardt goes on to project that:

The best hope for making progress against today’s gender inequality probably involves some combination of legal and cultural changes, which happens to be the same combination that beat back the old sexism. We’ll have to get beyond the Mommy Wars and instead create rewarding career paths even for parents—fathers, too—who take months or years off. We’ll have to get more creative about part-time and flexible work, too.”

Because he’s talking about gender inequality, he limits himself to a parent’s need for flexibility. Women who choose to have children are the ones who still make less. A study he cites shows that women who had no children and never took time off didn’t fall behind. Their career arc and pay looked like men’s because their life looks like the traditional male’s.

The conversations we’re having about flexibility, “Millennial” needs, and wellness tell us it’s not enough to look at creating equality based solely on working parents’ needs. That doesn’t address our desire for a flexible work path that allows us to take care of our parents, other family, or simply ourselves.

I don’t believe in having it all. I do believe in having a strong facsimile, and I’ve created it for myself.

That’s not an option for many. If, like moi, you’re at all risk-averse, you need certain things in place: a steady financial base, health care benefits, and the right temperament and skill set, for starters. If you can’t have it all:

  • What’s close enough for you?
  • What do you need from your employer to make that happen?
  • What do you think is reasonable to expect from them?

Lay it out for me.

This article was originally published on Fran Melmed’s Free-Range Communication blog.