Business Opinion

How Flexible Work Can Benefit Parents, Caregivers, and Their Employers

Faye Pang is the Canada Country Manager for Xero

If there’s one thing that working professionals have learned over the past 18 months, it’s that many of us really like working from home. While a continuation of full-time remote work on a permanent basis is not a practical, or even desirable, goal for most of us—video calls will never beat in-person interaction with colleagues—the future of work should be flexible.

Multiple surveys have shown that a majority of people who switched to working from home during the pandemic want to continue to do so—at least some of the time. For working parents in particular, the ability to be at home when schools were shut down forced them to hit the reset button and re-evaluate priorities. Having experienced this newfound flexibility, many working parents aren’t keen on giving it up.

Be flexible or lose the talent

Short-sighted organizations may fear a dip in productivity if employees continue to work from home part of the time, but the data doesn’t bear this out. In fact, the vast majority of Canadian remote workers report that their productivity while working at home has been equal to or greater than their productivity at the office.

The consequence for employers who fail to recognize that, for many employees, flexibility is an expected part of the new normal will be attrition. According to a survey by the Angus Reid Institute, two in five Canadian remote workers would gladly return to full-time in-office work. A quarter report that they would go back begrudgingly—and likely start looking for a different job. One-in-five say they would lean toward quitting immediately.

Very few working parents can afford to quit their jobs, but you can bet that they won’t hesitate to seek out a new one at a company that they feel is more aligned with their values and offers them the flexibility they need. There may be sacrifices, but many parents are willing to take less pay or a less prestigious job title if it means more time with their kids or increased capacity to support their family in non-monetary ways. The fact is, faced with a widespread shortage of skilled labour, employers can’t afford to lose their best and brightest. The ones that step up and offer parents and caregivers more flexible modes of working will ultimately win the talent war.

Family-friendly policies

Many companies already have family-friendly policies that can accommodate the needs of parents and caregivers. The trouble is that those employees who would benefit most from these policies don’t necessarily know they exist. That’s why working parents need to familiarize themselves with all of the options available to them—and if they need to have a conversation about accommodations beyond the baseline offerings, they need to be able to make a case that will mitigate whatever fears their managers might have about productivity.

For their part, managers should be as open to engaging on the topic of parental flexibility as they would be to any career-development conversation. They can take the onus off of working parents by broaching the topic first, asking employees what leadership can do to create an environment in which they feel they are doing the best work of their lives – and listening to what they say.

Teammates and colleagues can be good allies for the parents they work alongside in much the same way: by asking how to best support them. Maybe that means something as simple as learning a bit more about someone’s family schedule so you know not to book a 4:45 PM meeting on a day when they absolutely have to get the kids to the skating rink by 5:00 PM.

The future of work is flexible, and that’s a great thing for parents and their families. People are a company’s most valuable resource, and we must invest in keeping them engaged and able to do the best work of their lives.  It’s up to employers to step up, have more pointed conversations with employees about their needs, and revise their policies and operating rhythms accordingly to adapt to this new reality.