A generous health benefits package is nothing to sneeze at. Neither is top-up on maternity leave. But when Chatelaine asked 1,000 women across Canada between the ages of 35 and 45 for the number one thing they looked for in a job, the biggest group of respondents (28 percent) looked beyond the glamour of free orthotics, unlimited physio and a livable income after baby, and put “flexible hours” at the top of their list.
Flexibility has become a critical component of the job seeker’s wish list, says Melanie Peacock, a workplace expert and human resources professor at Mount Royal University’s Bissett School of Business in Calgary. Women don’t want a one-size-fits-all approach to work. Instead, they’re looking to tailor a position to suit them — their strengths, abilities and their lives.
“Flexibility can mean so many things,” explains Peacock. It can mean establishing core hours or late start times and/or early start times. It can translate into work-from-home days, or a certain number of days off each week.
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To Jennifer Moss, author of Unlocking Happiness at Work, and the co-founder of the Waterloo, Ont.-based Plasticity Labs, a tech company that teaches organizations how to increase employee contentment, our focus on flexible work hours reflects how we’ve altered our relationship with work to cope with a less secure, more invasive work culture.
Thanks to technology, the old dream of work-life balance can be relegated to the realm of fantasy. The reality is that our work comes home with us and our home life travels with us into work, whether we like it or not. As a result, women are trying to create a tenable compromise in which their work and home lives aren’t at cross-purposes, but instead are better integrated.
“Women are more aware of what’s going to make them feel effective and happy and successful,” says Moss, explaining why so many survey respondents cited flexibility as the main draw in a job.
Work environments that allow for a measure of customization do make employees happier, especially if they happen to be parents. A Plasticity report on flexibility found that employees who were parents experienced greater job satisfaction, reduced job stress, and were more grateful at work and more resilient when they could count on a compassionate work culture around hours.
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Workplaces that pay attention to what matters to employees benefit too. A study by researchers at the University of Warwick found that happy employees were 12 percent more productive than unhappy ones. After investing more heavily in employee satisfaction, Google saw productivity rise by 37 percent.
A 2014 Stanford study found that employees who were allowed to work from home were happier, more productive and less likely to quit.
There’s more to flexible hours than simple convenience or feel-good vibes, though. At the heart of flexibility is a desire to establish a more equitable relationship between employee and employer.
“It’s not just the flexibility itself,” says Peacock. “It’s the respect and trust it conveys. By giving individuals a say in how they work, an organization communicates respect for their judgment and choices.”