Flexible work doesn’t mean all the time, everywhere!

- October 23, 2019 3 MIN READ

What is your ‘Leadership Shadow’ telling others about how they should work, writes Clare Sporle.

We have lots to celebrate when we look into our data around flexible working. In Oceania, we now have 27% of people reporting they use informal flexibility on a regular basis and 45% on an occasional basis; and it’s evident the correlation we would expect to see of flexible working leading to a more engaged workforce is playing out as our latest Global People Survey reported, those who use informal flexibility on a regular basis are up to 11% more engaged than those who do not.

However, as we dug deeper into the data we noticed that while we expected increased flexibility to lead to improved work life balance, we are not seeing clear evidence of this correlation. So, this Flextober at EY, we are focusing on flexibility AND wellbeing.

This got me thinking. In embedding flexibility into our ways of working (recent coffees with some of our new joiners have made me swell with pride as they tell me that flexibility at EY is one of the things that has stood out for them – yay!) and the evolution of technology in supporting the ability to work when and where suits each of us, how as leaders do we protect against our well-intended message of working ‘Anytime and anywhere’ leading to behaviours of working ‘All-the-time and everywhere?’ Or, as the EY Diversity & Inclusiveness and Wellbeing teams have eloquently tagged this year’s Flextober campaign, ‘Can switching off help you become more switched on?’.

Throughout Flextober, we will be sharing many stories from our people on what works for them, but I thought I would take a leadership lens in answering this question and to frame my response, I have pinched the wonderful framework from the Male Champions of Change/Chief Executive Women ‘The Leadership Shadow’ (as a side note, for anyone looking to be more involved in supporting progress in gender balance this is a great source for your kick start). So, my reflections are as follows:

What I say

I reckon I’m a pretty strong advocate for flexible working. I have blogged about it and my tips for making it work; and I regularly talk to my teams, counselees and anyone who seeks me out about my own flexible working practices, including a 4 day week, working from home when I can and more. But on reflection, I could be more explicit about asking my team members about their boundaries (starting with whether they have set any…..), regularly checking in on how that balance is tracking and celebrating successes along the way.

How I act

Wednesday is the day I spend with my kids – Maya (6) and Kane (3 and a very important half) – and on this day I am strict in ensuring that work is the exception rather than the rule, and that includes responding to emails. However, I recognise that on my other days I am guilty of fuelling the expectation of instant access and response through my emails and instant messaging. I need to get back to the good old discipline of setting clear expectations of timeframes with my teams – which I think in today’s environment, is just as much about being explicit around the lack of urgency for some matters. This act of leadership gives teams permission to park items rather than react. I also need to be conscious of the signalling I give on what’s expected (those late-night emails are clearly on urgent matters, and again the exception rather than the rule). This is an area where I’m committed to not being a ’bystander’ by providing constructive feedback to my peers if I see unhealthy practices (and calling out when I don’t see change).

How I measure

Ah feedback – we all need to get more, give more, and not be biased in how open and honest we are. If you create great outputs but it is at the expense of your own or another’s wellbeing, then it becomes something we need to discourage and be clear that it is not the path to success. And we can’t just stop there. Leaders need to take a hands-on approach of finding a different way to work, together with our people, so as a team we prioritise wellbeing while also balancing deliverables. This can only be done through open, honest and frequent feedback.

What I prioritise

Though I love my work, I am very clear on the place it has in my life. Nothing is more important to me than the ‘health’ of my family in its broadest sense (not forgetting to include myself in that!) and I hope that comes across to my teams (if not, please see above point and give me that feedback) and my family. I take pride in my ability to say ‘No’ when I’m asked to do something which isn’t aligned with my priorities. In writing this, I realise I could do more to enable others to do the same.

What is your ‘Leadership Shadow’ telling others about how they should work? What can you change so that we can find a healthy balance in our ways of working flexibly? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

This post was written by Clare Sporle, Financial Services Partner at EY, Chair of Oceania Diversity & Inclusion Council on LinkedIn and is republished here with permission. 

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