Let's talk about fl*x

More specifically, let’s talk about popping enticing little flexibility taglines into job ads when there is no genuine flexibility on offer.

It’s been a pet peeve of mine for a long time, but even more so since I started job searching this year.

It appears at the bottom of the ad, usually italicised, just under the standard and equally token D&I statement… a throw away ‘we embrace flexible working’ line to show how woke they are.

I got lured in by this charade again yesterday, but the statement was so compelling!

Our workforce is a ‘diverse group of individuals with different needs’ they proclaimed before continuing that they ‘get that flexibility is important and different for each of us’. Sounds legit so far right?? Then they ended with the call to action ‘we offer a range of flexible working arrangements. Just ask us!’.

So I took them at their word and ‘just asked’ them, and here's what I learned;

  • The role is not just full-time but more than full-time. Apparently after you’ve smashed out the 38 hours you’re paid for, you’re expected to take global calls at odd hours for fun. Obviously part-time is not an option at all.

  • The male manager of this role has two young kids and ‘totally gets it’. He takes those late night global calls from the luxury of his home. Cool. I would have expected that at least. But something tells me he has a very accommodating partner and/or an au pair who enables his 50-60hr working weeks.

  • The male CEO ‘advocates for flexibility’. He wants to see working from home continue after the COVID situation. Which in reality looks like 2 full days in the office each week plus in person attendance at any meetings he calls, but I could just ‘pop in’ for those (it’s a 1hr commute each way. There’ll be no popping!).

  • There was no awareness about job-share. A thoughtful ‘huh’ was the response when I asked if two kick-ass part-time candidates with complementary skills would be considered for the role. ‘It’s not something I’ve heard about or ever considered’ was the eventual reply.

Now I do want to acknowledge that the recruiter was really lovely, generous with their time and I appreciated their complete honesty in our discussion. But my ‘just asking’ quickly uncovered that this role is far from flexible.

Flexible is not just ‘sometimes you can work from home, but just not too much in case people think you’re slacking off’.

Usually I can spot the token statements, but this one sounded credible, so it was particularly disappointing to hear that such a narrow view of flexibility was being applied. Again.

If you’re responsible for job ads, or for drafting that sexy little flexibility statement that appears waaaay way down at the bottom of your ad, please please please consider if you should be making the statement at all.

It is essentially false advertising. You’re enticing people in on the promise of something that actually doesn’t exist. Unless you have actual strategies and processes in place to deliver on your promise of flexibility DO NOT PUT THESE LINES IN YOUR ADS.

If you are genuine about creating a flexible workplace and are open to receiving applications from candidates who are seeking flexibility, try taking these initial steps:

1. Get clear on what flexibility looks like in your business. And I mean get really clear; don’t just default to ‘occasional WFH’ and ‘part-time for working mums’. I’m talking about really getting clear on the autonomy people have in your business over when, where and how they work.

2. Do a flex audit. Once you have the clarity from point 1, you can start to filter that down. Repeat this mantra a few times ‘All roles can be flexible, but not all flexibility works in every role’. There are legitimate restrictions that mean some flex options won’t work, but there will be some options that can. For example:

  • Manufacturing workers can’t work from home, but they can self-roster.

  • Retail workers can’t have variable start/finish times but they can purchase additional leave.

3. Sell the reality, not the dream. Once you have established the flex options for each role, you can talk with authenticity about your flexible working offering. When you create or review a PD, consider adding a ‘flex options’ list into the document that specifies the types of flexibility that can be accommodated in the role and make that available to candidates. Or bulk out your generic ‘we love flexible working’ line to read ‘we are fully supportive of flexible working and can facilitate the following in this role…’

And sure, there’ll be people who think ‘well, some roles just require a certain level of commitment (aka long hours, usually in the office)’.

But what is this lack of flexibility really saying? To me it says that some roles, leadership roles in particular, are not for certain people.

  • Proactively managing mental health challenges? This role isn’t for you.

  • Living with a chronic pain or fatigue condition? This role isn’t for you.

  • Wanting to commit time to your community? This role isn’t for you.

  • Single parent? This role isn’t for you.

  • Person with caring responsibilities? This role isn’t for you.

  • Parent who wants to see their children more than 5mins a day? This role isn’t for you.

  • Can’t financially afford to put kids in daycare 5 days a week? This role isn’t for you.

  • Like to spend time focusing on your health and wellbeing? This role isn’t for you.

Any business who has any interest in becoming more diverse and inclusive (and in this day and age and economic circumstance, who wouldn’t be?!?) needs to embrace flexible working at the same time.

You cannot be an inclusive employer without a flexible working foundation.

Yes, my consternation also extends to those hideous standardised token D&I statements that also usually appear in italics at the bottom of job ads. But it’s late and that’s a blog for another day...

If you 'd like a free copy of my ‘Flexspiration’ document where I list a whole bunch of different ways of working flexibly, please PM me or email me at tanya@zestbcc.com.au

If you know your flexible working game needs upping, or at least formalising after the COVID WFH scramble, please book a free 45m Cultural Kickstarter with me here. I’ll be happy to point you in the right direction for flex success.

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