The conundrum of workplace flexibility by Australian diversity consultancy Symmetra is based on research from 473 senior executives across Australia, New Zealand, the US and Hong Kong. It aims to establish why there is such discrepancy between the desire for flexible work and the uptake of these opportunities – even when they are available.
In its research Symmetra found even executives in corporates with cutting-edge flexible working policies demonstrate an “overwhelmingly unfavourable disposition towards those who work flexibly”. It said as a result businesses are failing to use the talents and skills of flexible workers to the best advantage.
Flexible workers are seen as less assertive, less ambitious, less credible and less capable of meeting client demands than their peers. Unconscious negative bias was also evident towards flexible workers’ communication skills, collaboration and objectivity. In fact flexible workers only ranked more favourably on one attribute: work-life balance.
The report said the notion that flexible workers are less assertive comes from unconscious gender bias – with leaders assuming flexible workers are female and exhibit stereotypical female characteristics.
It added that unconscious perception that flexible workers are less ambitious is likely to create tensions as younger, more mobile generations enter the workforce. “This generation sees no conflict between ambition and dividing their hours between work and other activities.”
Symmetra said organisations need to undergo cultural change, led from the top, to ensure flexible working is properly embedded. It said managers and leaders should adopt flexible schedules; there should be clear career paths via flexible working; and the idea that all jobs have the potential to be flexible should be promoted.
It added: “Adapting to the demand for flexible working from skilled, committed and productive employees could become a source of competitive advantage.”
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