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What The Ideal Workday For Working Parents Looks Like

The case for keeping parents in the workforce with flexibility.

What The Ideal Workday For Working Parents Looks Like
[Photo: Flickr user Phalinn Ooi]

It’s 12:28 p.m. and I’ve just finished lunch at my desk when the phone rings. The number of my oldest child’s school flashes on my phone’s screen and I say a quick prayer before answering, “Hello?” It’s the school nurse: My daughter has a slight fever, and can I please come pick her up? My heart aches as I look at my calendar and see that I have a meeting in an hour. “I’ll figure something out,” I sigh.

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Thankfully I work from home, so I’m not worried about missing out on an entire day of work because my child is sick. I can pop in and out of my home office to spend quality moments with my kids and enjoy the important events in their lives.

Working at home has made me more effective as both a professional and a mother. I’ve virtually eliminated my commute time, and I have the power to build my personal schedule. But not every working parent is so lucky.

Working when you have kids is a constant balancing act, and having a full-time job in an office means sacrifice, whether it’s personal, professional, or both.

There will always be a meeting you cannot stay late for, or a school play that you’ll sneak into the back of right as your child finishes their solo. With school getting out at around 3 p.m. and the usual expectation to stay at the office till 6 p.m., these two worlds feel incompatible. But do they have to be?

The answer is no. With the rise of technology and the resources we have access to today, the traditional model of the nine-to-five employee is changing. Flexible work schedules are on the rise–and they should be!

The Necessary Rise Of Flexible Work

The truth is that flexible work hours are good not just for employees but for employers as well. A 2010 study conducted by Georgetown University found that employee stress spurred by balancing after-school care for their children directly correlates with decreased productivity and increased absenteeism. This lack of focus costs companies money and takes a toll on an employee’s general well-being.

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But despite the numbers, companies are hesitant to implement flexible hours. In the 2014 National Study for Employers conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, only 38% of employers allow some of their employees to work from home regularly, while 43% of employers allow for compressed work-week schedules.

While companies are allowing somewhat for the rearrangement of schedules, they rarely allow for the reduction of work hours. Additionally, flexible hours tend to come as a double-edged sword, with employers sometimes looking over those that work from home when a promotion becomes available.

The solution lies in the company’s culture. Employers must be willing to trust their employees to create manageable timetables and work together to get projects done.

Take the accounting firm Ernst & Young as an example. In 1990, the firm implemented flexible work schedules as a way to retain female employees. The firm found that female employees were leaving the company at a rate of 10% to 15% higher than their male counterparts. More than 20 years later, female employees leave the company at a rate that is only 2% higher than their male coworkers, with about 5% of the company overall utilizing flexible work hours, a significant portion of whom are male.

Not only does this solution offer the opportunity for increased productivity as a result of support by the employer for flexible work conditions, but it also keeps women in the workforce after deciding to start a family. Keeping women in the workforce is good for the economy as well as the well-being of families.

Manon DeFelice is the founder and CEO of Inkwell, an organization that matches highly accomplished working mothers with companies that need part-time or project-based help. DeFelice is an attorney, mother of three, and former executive director of a women’s rights organization. She has dedicated her expertise to the advancement of the current and next generation of leading women. Learn more at www.inkwellteam.com.