Our Professional Lives are a Little Slower to Similarly Evolve and Align
By Allison O’Kelly, CEO of Mom Corps
The age of “one size fits all” is now but a chapter in the history books. Today’s world has adapted to align to the needs, preferences or extenuating circumstances of the individual. We have access to 24-hour fitness centers, flexible educations through online universities, on-demand entertainment—our smart phones even tell us which restaurants will deliver tomato soup. The progression of market demand and available technology has provided consumers with choices that fit a customized lifestyle.
So where does the modern workplace fall into the customization spectrum? It lags a bit. Understandably, a company is not an individual; professionals work collectively for a greater good. But adapting flexibility and aligning life and work for the betterment of all involved transcends simply addressing personal preference. Here we look at workplace evolution, a comparative example of flexibility, and ideas for building flexibility with impact.
A Historical Perspective
Graduate college, get a job, go to work (in an office) Monday through Friday, pay your dues, climb the corporate ladder and mark out a good career. Family? That’s another conversation entirely. Isn’t this what we know to be “life as a grown-up”? For some of us older folks maybe it was once, but everything else around us is adapting so quickly to a different lifestyle.
Andrew Ross, a professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University, was interviewed by PRI (Public Radio International) and summed up today’s workplace from an interesting historical perspective. When asked what is driving workplace changes, he replied:
It’s pretty obvious that for the last two or three decades the result has been a redistribution of wealth upwards and an erosion of the middle class. The middle class is largely built on the basis of these fairly secure livelihoods—high wage, union wage employment in the post war period—and that highly packaged economic arrangement seems to have been eroded quite drastically in the course of the last three decades. The definition of a job is slowly reverting to its original etymological derivation which was a lump of work that exists only for the duration of its fulfillment. The historical norm has been self-employment, intermittent work and isolation from any type of social insurance of the sort that we were familiar with in the post war period.
Evolution—even when it comes to workplace practices—is a normal and natural progression.
Business Innovators Evolve
While it’s apparent that employees appreciate access to flexible work options, it would be one-sided to not consider the impact of flexibility on the employer. After all, companies provide jobs and drive the economy. What is the motivator for an employer to make provisions that create a better lifestyle for the employee? Employers ultimately benefit when they start seeing the employer/employee relationship as symbiotic. They cannot prop themselves up on a pedestal as economic heroes without addressing the needs of their largest asset—human capital. Our world of endless options has evolved because innovators saw an opportunity to expand their market.
Here’s a comparative example of business evolution. Owning a vacation home or airplane was once available only to the exceedingly wealthy. Business innovators embraced the concept of fractional ownership, where a group of individual investors share the purchase price and usage of a luxury asset. This concept expanded the market opportunity and increased sales for these particular items.
Likewise, workplace innovators created the job share solution as a way to attract a new audience. Many skilled professionals were unable or unwilling to commit to a 40-hour week due to life changes and personal preferences. This limited the market of available talent for positions requiring specific skill sets and experience. Dividing “ownership” of the job created flexible and meaningful work for a growing talent segment and gave companies access to workers who might otherwise be unavailable to them.
Forging a New Path
An evolved workplace can take on almost endless forms. Study those who have implemented successful programs and learn from what worked best. Organizations like the Family and Work Institute (www.whenworkworks.org) share a variety of rigorous research and employer best practices on workplace effectiveness and flexibility.
Don’t make assumptions about which flexible options will make a difference for employees. Whether through a formal company-wide survey or asking each employee individually during their performance review, uncover the pain points across the organization on a macro level, and by department or location on a more micro level. This data will help pinpoint the programs that are both achievable and impactful.
Modern life has produced flexible options that make us more efficient and allow us to spend time in ways that best fit our lives at the moment. When aspects of our professional lives mirror this, we are better at work, too. Employers may be apprehensive about the idea of implementing and managing flexible schedules, teleworking or alternative work methodologies—this is understandable. We are talking pretty significant social change here. It will require an investment of time and resources to eventually see a measurable return, but small and steady efforts will create a new social norm of workplace flexibility that will make a measurable impact on society.
About the Author
Launched in 2005 by Allison O’Kelly—a CPA, Harvard MBA and working mother, Mom Corps is a leading professional staffing firm specializing in locating talent that does not typically connect with traditional recruiting firms for contract, full-time and flexible solutions. While a core focus is on staffing placements, the firm’s specialty is consulting with companies to help them understand how to use a variety of staffing solutions to build more productive and loyal teams. With franchise offices located throughout major cities in the U.S., Mom Corps partners with Fortune 500 companies, small to mid-size businesses, academic institutions and non-profits nationwide.
© Mom Corps 2012
By Allison O’Kelly