A Flexible Work Arrangement vs. A New Job

Q: I work in downtown Boston and live about 45 minutes north of the city. Traffic seems to be getting worse and worse, which has lengthened my commute. My husband works closer to our daughter’s daycare but now is moving into a role which requires more travel. Thus, I will be doing more of the drop-offs and pick-ups. My company has flexible work hours but truthfully my manager dismisses this benefit and really isn’t behind them. Do you think I need to find a new job? Before you ask, my role is conducive to flexibility since I have a PC at home and I often work a few nights to catch up on emails or other correspondence.

A: Your predicament is not uncommon. An employer likes to brand themselves as a family friendly/flexible employer but in reality, they are not all that flexible. Or, in some cases, the employer may be flexible but it is not exactly what the employee expects.

Flexible work arrangements (FWA) are not just about caring for kids anymore. It is about a spouse who may need to provide care for their seriously ill partner. It is about an adult child who has two parents who need constant care in the final years of their lives. It is about increasing long and unpredictable commutes. Sometimes it is even about returning to school to finish a degree.

For my clients who do it well, I have observed the following:

  1. Senior management supports and often embraces one (or more) of the FWA options. These leaders truly “walk the talk” and will work remotely one day per week or work a flexible work schedule to drop off a child at school. What is probably most important is that these leaders “walk the talk” and openly share with others that FWA are acceptable and supported.
  2. The FWA is not perceived as a nice, little perk. Instead, it is viewed as part of the attraction and retention puzzle. “We want to keep you.”
  3. Smart companies listen to their employees. Employees often have the best ideas. Some FWA are more accepted in some organizations than others. Successful organizations give employees a voice at the table.
  4. Progressive employers review where FWA are being used and more importantly, where they are not. Sometimes this is a yellow flag with respect to senior-level support.

I don’t think you should start searching for a new job. Instead consider options that might help you build a business case for a more flexible work schedule. Visit www.whenworkworks.org.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section. Click here to read about more employment topics in The Job Doc Blog at Boston.com.