From the more serious—a sick child, a dog on the run, assisting an aging parent—to the less dire—a car battery needs to be replaced, a school event—many workers want flexibility in their schedules to be able to tackle the big, the small and the unexpected.
“Flex time: That’s something that’s not going away,” says Devin Lemoine, founder and owner of Success Labs.
Employees are renegotiating relationships with their employers. It’s not just women and working moms. Men are, too.
Flexibility and remote-working often go hand-in-hand. As workplace flexibility has risen, remote work opportunities have soared as well. A recent study shows 52% of employees work from home at least once a week, while 16% of companies operate with an entirely remote workforce.
Another study reported by Inc. found employees are 43% less likely to experience burnout when they’re allowed to choose how and when to work. Other research suggests those same employees can experience higher burn out rates because they feel indebted to their employers and work harder.
Yet many professionals—particularly Generation Z and Millennials—continue to call for the ability to chose. Employers are faced with the complicated task of figuring out how to respond.
Some point to the 1990s as a turning point for flexible schedules in the workplace, as more and more professional women returned to work after having children and began demanding flexible work hours and structures. Without it, they left. Some went on to launch companies of their own.
Lemoine says the flex-time movement was likely led by female entrepreneurs, and it’s one area of the workforce where women have done it better.
“We’ve seen an increase in woman entrepreneurs who have started a business so women can have control, so they have the autonomy to control their destiny,” she says. “Women-owned businesses were doing this before it was a thing.”
Lemoine founded her own company more than 20 years ago when her triplets were just 3 years old. She and the other moms on the Success Labs team would leave the office at 3 in the afternoon, pick up the kids, bring them back and set up a makeshift playroom, and get back to work.
In the two decades since, the principles of flex time have expanded beyond afternoon pick up schedules to time-off policies like parental leave, family sick leave, and the broad ability to set your own schedule, provided performance doesn’t suffer.
The downside of a flexible schedule for business owners is the initial stage of working up to a place where one can delegate more and take the time off when it’s needed.
Mary-Patricia Wray founded Top Drawer Strategies at a time when she was putting off having her first baby.
“I really wanted to do it. I had finished law school a few years before that and had put it off then,” Wray says. Six hours after she delivered her first child—via an unmedicated birth— Wray was already back on conference calls.
“I look back and ask myself why,” says Wray, now pregnant with her second. “At the time, I thought I wanted to be doing that. But frankly, what I wanted was to show the client that this new role I had wasn’t going to interfere with my services to them.”
She’s since learned the urge to so dramatically overcommit to a client usually says more about the client than her work ethic.
The post-maternity leave transition back to work is the subject of much media coverage and continues to be a point of career concern for many women. According to a report by Fast Company, nearly 60% of women in a recent survey said they felt overlooked for advancement opportunities after returning from maternity leave.
Even though she’s still joining conference calls from her Costa Rica vacation, Wray says it’s about working herself up to a place in the business where she won’t have to do that.
“For every conference call at a time that’s not the best, I think of how many days I can pick up my son up from school,” Wray says. “That means that this flexibility is actually a gem instead of a piece of coal.”
She’s encouraged by other female business owners in Baton Rouge who have reached that point in their careers, making clear cut-out time for themselves and their families at pivotal moments.
Vanessa Graham, owner of the financial consulting firm VGraham LLC, says in order to recruit her all-female group of employees, that flexibility was critical. Her new hires were all at a time in their lives when a home life and families were important. One of her top priorities is allowing everyone to attend their children’s ballgames or school events.
“We do allow a flex schedule, but the client does not notice that,” Graham says. “Internally, we make it all work.”
Now as the firm is looking to expand—possibly bringing in its first male employee—she notes the male candidates value a flexible schedule, too.
Even so, many industries retain 9-to-5 workday, where flexibility would require better leave policies—not just for moms, but for all employees.
Wray calls for “women and men to both really band together to demand better leave policies—not just for paid family medical leave, but for the kinds of leave that helps you create memories with your kids.”
When those flexible leave policies aren’t in place, parents in particular start to piecemeal it.
During the interview for this story, Wray noted that her sister was currently clocking a few hours at the office before her newborn was scheduled to be discharged from the NICU. While her father was able to sit with the baby in her stead, many parents in similar situations aren’t as fortunate.
“You’re asking a mother to leave their child,” she said. “She didn’t want to use a day of leave she could need later.”