Is There Still a Stigma about Flexible Work Hours and Arrangements?

Flexible WorkingA third of all Australian employees are self-styled “flexi-time” workers, and that makes up 4.1 million individuals, and counting. Freelancing and working flexible hours in Australia is becoming a more popular trend, and it’s changing how people approach and even define work.

There are many benefits of flexible working hours and freelancing, including the ability to set your own schedule and give more time to your family and social life. And, with online and remote communications becoming more and more reliable, effective, and efficient, flexible work arrangements should be even easier to adopt and implement in the coming years.

That being said—and despite its perceived advantages and advances in technology that make it possible—a stigma regarding working flexible hours, part-time telecommuting, and working remotely still exists. And, although it affects both genders, women are seemingly highlighted more in this regard due to societal expectations regarding the need to take care of a family including aging parents, household and bear children.

The Stigma—What is it and What’s Behind it?

The greatest argument for flexible working hours is that it enables a greater level of work-life balance or as I prefer to call it, work-life blending. The idea is to provide a workplace setup and working schedule that enables an employee to do what he or she needs to accomplish for work while also being able to have more time to spend with family, friends and for themselves. It puts greater emphasis on the overall satisfaction of employees because, a happy employee is a more productive employee.

However, the stigma that comes along with flexible working hours cuts to the heart of trust in the workplace on the one hand and the way we “measure” and standardise workers at every level, on the other, especially as they move towards positions of management and leadership.

For women, the stigma shows up in a number of ways in the corporate workplace and business environment such as:

  • Women are routinely denied flexible work arrangements because their “motives” are seen to be related to family care even if the reason for their request has absolutely nothing to do with their personal lives.
  • Women experience a “women’s work penalty” where, even if they’re working in a female-owned business or female-dominated niche, there’s likely to be a significant reduction in access to schedule control
  • Women who request a flexible work schedule to advance their careers are still likely to be denied because it’s assumed they’ll leave their jobs in the future (for family planning and care).

The stigma for men is that their male peers question their commitment to their career if they choose flexible working arrangements as well as requesting parental leave.

A significant barrier to normalising and accepting flexible hours as a standard is the fact that many companies and businesses have a set and very strict policy on working schedules that cannot be altered, especially on a per individual employee basis. In this setting, requesting for flexible hours might be discouraged and frowned upon, further implying that there’s something wrong with it and perpetuating the stigma.

According to a study conducted by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, flexible working hours is still viewed not as a standard but more of an exception to the rule in many Australian companies.

Adding to that, less than 50% of organisations have a workplace flexibility policy in place. This lack of formal policy communicates where a company’s priority and preference lie.

And when women do try to access flexible working arrangements, according to Joan C. Williams, Director at the Centre for Work-Life Law, there are companies having flexible work policies on paper, though it’s known to their employees that they’ll be informally penalised if they use them.

Overturning Conventional Wisdom 

To begin changing this perception, trust and leadership should be taken into consideration. Firstly, the key to better and more willing adoption of flexible working arrangements is trust. There is a sense that those who seek flexible working arrangements are more likely to be distracted, splitting their attention and, thus, seemingly becoming less committed to their tasks.

This tells us that there is a distinct perception at play: working in the comfort of one’s own home or schedule, employees are not actually being as productive as they might be while physically in the office. In my experience the opposite is true.

Secondly, it will take individuals in positions of leadership (who themselves might require flexible working hours) to encourage acceptance. If those in the higher positions become more open to the idea of flexible working arrangements, there’s a good chance they’ll be able to influence those below them as well, creating a trickle-down effect.

There’s also the idea of workplace culture. There needs to be a culture in place in an organisation that not just accepts but also enables flexible working arrangements. As David Thodey, former CEO of Australian mobile phone company Telstra, says, “We have the enabling technology, now we need the enabling culture…You need a performance-based culture, where flexibility is just built-in.”

Moving Forward on Flexible Work Arrangements

Contrary to more entrenched beliefs in workplace culture, making the option to go for flexible working hours available is a great way to attract new talent and could also lead to more success in the long-term.

  • Employees who seek flexible working hours and arrangements are actually more productive and happier than those who remain confined to conventional working schedules. Results can also include lowered costs, decreased staff turnover, and reduced absences.
  • Companies can also strengthen their credibility by showing clients that they are ready to respond and are available “24/7,” thanks to flexible working arrangements that can make employees more readily accessible.
  • Flexible working schedules can also enhance an organisation’s ability to be more innovative, which can help them better prepare for future changes and trends.

For flexible working arrangements to be widely accepted, more organisations need to be encouraged to adopt it, and show good results for doing so. The good news is, more and more companies and people in top management positions are embracing this idea.

Take Envato, for example. The digital creative design marketplace tapped into and benefitted from granting internal employees flexible working arrangements. Their “universal workplace flexibility program” promises their Australian-based employees and global contractors the option to work from anywhere, anytime. What’s notable is that this is a stated policy and program being deliberately rolled out and encouraged across the whole company.

And their motivations for doing so? “The globalisation of work is coming, and it’s transformative. We want to stay competitive, attract the best, and get ahead of that,” says Envato HR Director James Law.

So, in summary, granting flexible working arrangements is not just for the benefit of the employees. Implemented correctly, it will result in more than just happy employees, it will also lead to increased productivity and flexibility, allowing a company to be more competitive in the global stage and possibly even more prepared for the future.

For women who want more insights, advice, and guidance when it comes to professional development, it always helps to join a business network you can trust. At Behind Closed Doors, we help women, help other women, improve and be closer to success in their careers or businesses. We offer peer mentoring, networking, professional development, support and other tools, events, and resources to help you in your career. Contact us today to learn how we can help you be more successful than you think is possible.


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Challenges Start-ups Face and How to Overcome Them

Challenges Start Ups FaceStarting a business is a great journey. It means that you’ve decided to follow your dreams and empower yourself. From the moment you come up with an innovative idea to the moment you sell your first product or service, there are many exciting times. However, pursuing your own business also comes with different challenges. It takes detailed planning, plenty of brainstorming, advice from others, and resources to successfully run your own business. 

The number of SMEs continues to rise. Australia is already home to over 2.1 million small businesses, and a new business is created every 100 seconds! Yet, despite entrepreneurship’s rising popularity, start-up culture brings its own unique set of difficulties and problems that need to be addressed if success is to be gained. 

Let’s look at some of the major challenges you might face when running a start-up, and how to avoid or overcome them.

Finding the Right People 

Finding the right people to work with is extremely important. You’ll have to make sure that those you want to include in your business know how to handle the tasks assigned to them with quality and efficiency in mind. Otherwise, you will find yourself struggling with sub-par products, services, or employee performance, which can quickly lead to negative reviews for your business. 

But this goes beyond performance. Having the right people in your team also means working with those who share your passion or, at the very least, would like your business to thrive and grow. This helps improve communication and builds trust. If you know that you can trust and rely on your team, you will have more peace of mind. 

Networking with other businesswomen is a great way to meet like-minded people. Not only to meet possible employees and clients but to also to promote a profile of your business. You can also use social media platforms such as LinkedIn to connect with people you think will be the right cultural fit in your business, as well as attend community workshops in your area to meet potential partners, employees, and even advisors or mentors. Having a good network means you can ask them for referrals for business or introduce you to potential employees.  

Access to Funding 

Funding is probably the biggest stumbling block when it comes to starting your own business. If you don’t have sufficient funds, your business might not grow as fast as it could or you might not be able to bring it beyond the initial growth phase. For female entrepreneurs, this challenge may prove to be even more difficult. Even today, many women still struggle to get access to needed capital for different reasons, from lacking connections to the certainly inaccurate stereotype or image of a successful businessperson. 

However, there are many alternative ways women can try to gain funding for their businesses, including crowdfunding, partnerships, and seeking angel investors. Again, networking plays a crucial role here. When done right, it will lead you to the right connections that could help you gain more funding for your business.

Marketing and Spreading the Word 

Effective marketing is vital for any business, especially for start-ups. You have to get the word out that you exist, and that you’re great at what you do. Failing to do so means less visibility and smaller market reach, resulting in not enough people to buy or avail of your products or services to fuel more growth.

What makes things worse is that start-ups usually don’t have a large marketing budget. The good news is, there are ways you can market your business without having to spend a huge amount of money. One way is through social media. Platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and even Instagram are now being used by businesses both big and small to promote what they offer. If you have a good social media marketing strategy, quality content, and dedication to monitor your business’ social media profiles, you’ll definitely be a lot closer to successfully marketing your business online (and acquiring more funds for additional growth).

Dealing with Competitors 

Start-ups often have to compete with larger, more established businesses. As such, it can be difficult to stand-out at first. This is where digital marketing comes into play—it basically helps level the marketing field since both start-ups and big companies can go online to promote their products and services.

To ensure that your business doesn’t get lost in your specific industry, you can also build strong relationships and partner with other businesses to promote your brand or get more leads and referrals. Aside from potentially getting more clients, this helps you create more buzz within your industry that will help spread the word about your business. The key here is to not to become overly excited or impatient. Poor planning or rushing things and being careless will lead to poor decision-making—it’s better to be strategic and attain steady growth.

Being Sustainable

Starting and running a business is one of the biggest decisions and challenges many of us will face in life. If done right, it could lead to financial security and plenty of exciting opportunities in the future. However, when running a start-up, it is important to make sure your business is sustainable. Think in terms of the “now” and the future. Will your business still be relevant in a few years’ time?

An important part here is basing your enterprise on an idea or concept that’s not just great on paper but also works in business. This means that it’s something that has consistent demand and you can tweak or improve on to better suit the changing market. It’s also important to spend time to do forecasting and market research to better prepare for what’s ahead—attending networking events, seminars, and workshops can give you valuable insights here. It’s critically important that you know your numbers – if you don’t understand your business casts, unit costs and you don’t understand how to interpret your profit and loss statement and balance sheet, get some help by way of mentor or do a short course. Cash is King!   

Don’t Give Up

There will always be growing pains in the start-up journey and, as you try to expand your business, some of these difficulties will perhaps become even harder. However, with proper preparation in place and the right support structure, you can make a successful transition from being an early-stage start-up to becoming an established business. The secret is to not give up.

Adda Birnir, founder of and instructor at online tech-education company Skillcrush, says, “One of the most important things I have learned is that businesses don’t fail, entrepreneurs give up. Now sometimes, giving up is the right decision. But usually, you just need to dig in and figure out how to make things better. Remember: Every day is a new opportunity to get up and do it better than yesterday!” 

More and more women are deciding to be innovative and walk on the entrepreneurship path. Factors such as trends in the marketplace, developments in the global business scene, increasing financing options, and mentorship are encouraging more women to become entrepreneurs. By learning how to face and deal with the aforementioned challenges, we’ll also begin to see even more women running and leading not just start-ups but also big, global companies in the near future.

For aspiring female entrepreneurs, it’s always a wise idea to seek guidance from people who can help you in your business journey. At Behind Closed Doors we work towards the professional development of women. With networking, peer mentorship, and other tools and resources, we assist business and career women help and guide each other towards more growth and success, whether as entrepreneurs or professionals. Contact us today to know more about how we can help you. 


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