I chimed in on the dialogue stimulated by Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” My contribution to the discussion was a blog post pointing out that addressing the issue Slaughter raised (the difficulty of climbing to the leadership level while also being a good mother), while important, is not alone enough to enable businesses to engage and retain women and therefore achieve gender diversity at the top. I want to stress, though, how much of the workforce will respond well to the changes suggested by Slaughter’s piece, which include creating flexible work schedules (“changing the culture of face time”). As I pointed out in my post, this is no longer just a woman’s issue; it is a generational issue.
Recently I have been doing more workshops and consulting on the issues that divide the generations in today’s workplace. A major issue that creates friction between Baby Boomers and Traditionals vs. the younger members of Generation X and Millennials is their different views of “work/life balance.” The older generations often judge the younger generations as lacking commitment and work ethic. The younger generations argue that “face time” is an archaic concept and that they can accomplish results in less time and virtually. They want “life/work balance.” They want a life!
This aligns Generation X and Millennials with women, whose need for flexible work hours and having “life/work” balance stems from their role in having and raising children and, in general, carrying a larger share of the load in caring for the household and elders. I addressed this issue in a blog post in a series from early 2011. I said: “Because of their social roles and natural role as mothers, many women have, for decades, juggled the demands of work and family. This balancing act is more and more shared by men of the Gen X and Millennial generations. Men in these generations play a greater role in parenting and so share the challenge of balancing ‘life and work.’ Equally important, members of Generation X do not operate under the old contract with employers. They saw their Baby Boomer parents (who popularized the two-career family and divorce) put more emphasis on career than family—and rejected this balance.” Regarding Millennials, I noted that this “techno-savvy generation values individualization of workplace policies, working virtually and being valued for results rather than ‘face time.’” And I noted that “late career Baby Boomers who are reluctant to retire completely also seek new forms of life/work balance!”
The point is that women are not alone in needing flexibility at work. Indeed, large sectors of the workforce are demanding it. Leaders who ignore this are at risk of increasing rates of disengagement and turnover. Leaders who understand this and are open to creative and flexible work arrangements will see engagement and retention rise.
How has your workplace dealt with the demand for flexibility? Have you seen a tie between flexibility and positive morale or lower turnover?