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A new book calls for a flexible revolution that will affect all aspects of our lives.
Parents are “undiscovered rockstars” at work with the experience and empathy the modern workplace needs in uncertain times and a proven record in “getting shit done”, according to a new book.
The way we look at working parents needs to undergo a 360 degree transformation, says Annie Auerbach in her new book, Flex: the modern woman’s handbook. No more should parents be apologetic and their competence undermined. Auerbach writes: “As my friend says: ‘After all, who’s more efficient than someone maintaining three projects and a couple of kids every day?’”
Calling for a revolution in attitudes to flexible working, she adds that it needs to become more sexy, with its success stories feted. Auerbach sees flex as a way of life, “a manifesto for living and working on your own terms” and says the inherited rigid cultural norms and systems are unfit for purpose.
She talks about her own past experience of trying to cram work into three days, constantly checking her phone when she was on her ‘day off’ with her daughter, as if she was at a party and there was someone more interesting over her daughter’s shoulder. She says the image of stressed, juggling womanhood has passed its sell-by date. Flexible working is not about flexing to the point of doing contortions. It is about being creative and brave, challenging received ways of living and forging your own path, she argues.
Appropriately, Auerbach is co-founder of Starling, a cultural insights agency whose job is to understand how society is changing. She sees those who flex their lives and work as “unrecognised revolutionaries” who we need to learn from and her book is peppered with examples of these pioneers.
First in her prescription for the fully flexible life is flexing your mind in order to be more creative, collaborative and to discover serendipitous links between different aspects of your life. That comes from taking time away from the computer and observing the world and interacting with it and with others, fully.
Next comes flexing your work. That means flexible working that works for both parties, not flexible working where one party is flexing themselves into the ground. She highlights the dangers of presenteeism, the productivity loss caused by a bums constantly on seats mentality, the mental health damage of inflexible working and the benefits of a trust-based work culture.
Flexible working comes in all shapes and sizes, she says. There are the usual ones – remote working, reduced hours, job shares, flexi hours and annualised hours, among others, as well as the less routine such as phased retirement, term-time flex and flex-banking, where you work a four-day week, get paid for 4.5 days, bank the hours and when the business needs you to put in some extra time they can cash in.
The book includes some tips for making flex work better, including being explicit what your working hours are and being contactable when you work remotely.
After work comes home life. Auerbach talks about the need to share tasks at home equally and to recognise that there are times when the tug of home will be more intense. To share tasks better requires listing them, having conversations about them with your partner, if you have one, and creating a joint vision which may involve flexing around each other’s ambitions.
Allied to a flexible work and home life is a flexible approach to our circadian rhythms. Knowing when and how you work and function best will make you happier and more productive, the book argues. There are tips for those who function best in the early hours, those who function best in the daytime and those who are more alert at night and a recognition that these circadian rhythms may change throughout a person’s lifetime.
Auerbach also tackles hormonal changes, particularly periods, which she says is a crucial issue for flex. She writes: “If we adjust our routines, social lives and work behaviours to suit our bodies, it stands to reason we could feel, live and work better.” It might not always work, for instance, to try to schedule big events when you are feeling at your best, but she says that attempts at cycle syncing can make you feel more in control.
Lastly comes flexing your future. By that Auerbach means the move towards lifelong learning and being open to change, whether that is having a side hustle, changing jobs, retraining or pivoting your career. The future will demand an ability to change and adapt rather than rigid 10-year plans, she says. That includes learning how to learn, reviewing your plans every seven years or so and appreciating your support network of friends.
Auerbach ends with a call to embrace flex as a bold way of approaching the future. She writes: “At first glance, the word ‘flexibility’ may appear to describe something that is soft or pliable. Flexible people might seem like pushovers, bending over backwards to fit in, marching to someone else’s drum. But…flex gives us power; to flex is to show immense strength.”
*Flex: the modern woman’s handbook by Annie Auerbach is published by Harper Collins, price £9.99 hardback.