The ability to flex in the workplace is not a brand new idea. When we really think about it, it’s almost a primitive act. For example, geese travel from coast to coast to find what works best for them. So if geese can do it, can we?
As we explore the topic of ‘flexing in the workplace,’ I like to define it as the ability to find a working condition that best suits our personal and professional needs, all while meeting business goals. At times, we think that because of our role or corporate culture, asking for flexible workspace/workplace is out of the question. However, studies show that individuals who have a flexible work schedule are more likely to be engaged and retained by their organization.
Personally, flexing for me is still something I struggle with, but I intentionally work on having open and honest conversations with my managers and peers when flexing is something I need (or want!). I believe that the concept of flexing is not natural for me because of my cultural upbringing. My parents, both born in Guatemala, raised by hardworking parents that never took vacations, came to this country in 1985. Upon arriving, they found the best jobs they could, working in local factories. Because of their then-illegal status, their community taught them that vacations or flexibility in the workplace was not allowed. Vacation and flexibility was a benefit only granted to those who were born in the US. Therefore, naturally, unconsciously, my parents taught me those very same lessons, even though I was born in Rhode Island.
Because of my upbringing, I found it very difficult to ask my boss for time off – although it was a benefit I had as soon as I started working. I found it difficult to ask to leave to go home early – although I was exempt and could work from home. I found it difficult to show up after 7:30 a.m. – although the office norm was to come in around 8:00 a.m. All of this was influenced by my parents’ circumstances and beliefs, which unconsciously taught to me to think this way.
I can tell you that I work for a very understanding organization that has many policies and practices in place that honor the need and desire for flexibility. (I remember one recent time when I unexpectedly needed to rescue a lost dog…who now lives with me.) They understood that bringing a new life into my home was going to take some effort, and therefore honored my need to work from home. All of this comes without saying that I am a star performer (really, I promise) and I ensure that my work is always delivered on time.
Flexing in the workplace can look different for many of us. It can be flexing by working in different spaces in the office, like the cafeteria, breakroom, or at a coffee station with peers. It can look like leveraging Skype and webchats with colleagues across the globe while wearing pajama bottoms. Flexing can look like changing your work schedule to support a parent or a child (furry or human). Flexing is not a one size fits all and can be the right choice for you, with the right supports.
If you’re joining us (me and my colleague, Jennifer Pierce) for the breakfast event in February: Flexing the Workplace, consider your workplace and share with us (in the comments below) some challenges you need help overcoming when it comes to flexing in the workplace. Also, consider sharing with us a success story about how flexibility in the workplace has helped you achieve a goal or two.
I look forward to seeing, meeting, and learning with you.
Diversity & Inclusion Specialist – BCBSRI