Recovering workaholics, ailing parents and phone-free Fridays: Equilibrium Man Challenge hits half-way mark
We’re half-way! The release of the second episodes in the Equilibrium Man Challenge micro-documentary project reveal surprising insights and trials for our five challengers on their journey to flexibility.
Here’s how they’re going:
SIMON: Workaholic showing signs of recovery
Confessed workaholic Simon has been working a day a week at home for the past month.
In addition to his mother being ill, his father’s health has taken a turn for the worse, having been diagnosed with dementia.
“There’s no way I want to spend time later in life regretting the fact that I didn’t spend more time looking after my dad.”
REID: Learning to turn off the phone and reclaim Fridays
Reid has moved to a compressed nine-day fortnight and takes Fridays off, which has created some interesting management challenges and opportunities. He’s now one of the most senior people within Telstra working part-time.
“I did find in the first few weeks that it was really hard to put the phone away (on Friday). I didn’t realise that my head was in the work zone so much when I was at home.”
TOM: Work/sport balance still up in the air
Tom is still working to negotiate his flexibility arrangement with Mirvac. He is seeking to compress a five-day week into four days – taking half-days on Wednesdays and Fridays with no cut to pay.
“Having that structure there will give me the comfort to walk away even though I’ll make up the hours and make sure the work gets done.”
MICHAEL: Challenging cultural norms in professional services
Michael works flexibly by working a day from home and taking his daughter Octavia to swimming lessons on Fridays. He wants to help drive cultural change in his firm and within the professional services sector, known for demanding hours.
“Slowly but surely we’ll get there. I think ultimately I’ll end up being part of a workplace that sees this as commonplace.”
ADRIAN: Growing family brings hope
Adrian is now leaving site early three days a week to pick up his daughter from daycare, bucking the trend of relentless hours in construction. With another baby on the way, Adrian is hopeful he can maintain his flexible arrangement and valuable family time.
“My work peers and colleagues want to test it themselves.”
What issues are emerging?
It’s not called the Equilibrium Man Challenge for nothing. Changing the way we engage with work isn’t easy. As the men proceed along the path to flexibility, a number of interesting issues are emerging that speak to the challenges of negotiating work and life commitments.
Meeting KPIs on fewer hours
It’s a common challenge for workers moving from full-time to part-time: fitting your workload into fewer hours (and often a smaller pay packet).
Simon raised this concern in episode 1: “I’m worried I’ll be paid for nine days but still working the 10, 11 or 12 days a fortnight I’m currently doing.”
Reid and Simon both cut their hours to compressed nine-day fortnights with a commensurate reduction in pay, while maintaining their team’s existing KPIs.
Support and opportunities to delegate are in place for Reid and Simon but they present management challenges that will be important to monitor. Unfortunately for many people (especially primary carers and usually mothers) the difficulty of finding a part-time role with a realistic workload can lead to opting out of the workforce.
Escaping the technology
Access to technology is a key driver of flexibility, allowing people to balance work and family commitments by working from home and spending less time in the office. But technology can also lead to pressure to be always available and accessible.
E-Men Simon and Reid have found their own solutions.
Reid has made an active decision to turn his phone off on Fridays and reduce his email traffic by archiving emails not directly addressed to him.
Simon resolved his constant access to work technology in a different way: his home computer screen breaking was an opportunity to spend more time relaxing and talking to his wife!
Once a flexible arrangement is in place, employees may need to exercise considerable personal effort to contain the dominance of work over their lives.
Tom accepts that he needs to get enough sleep if he’s to perform his best at work and at volleyball.
Simon grapples with the looming year-end deadline: “Every instinct of my body will be telling me I need to work harder, stay up as late as I can to help everything across the line and I can’t afford to do that – especially with the promises I’ve made to my wife about reaching better balance.”
Efficiency in, presenteeism out
Reid takes a structured approach to maximising his efficiency including measures like cutting the length of regular team meetings from an hour to half an hour:
“It’s more productive because we’re talking about what’s important. What are the top 3 issues? Let’s just get on with those.”
Michael’s colleagues note that his communication with colleagues is critical to making his flexibility arrangement work:
“He’s very good at letting people know, ‘today I’m working from here or there’,” says Corrs Chambers Westgarth partner Sandy Mak.
Flexibility coupled with efficient working practices are important for breaking a culture of ‘presenteeism’ still entrenched in many workplaces – where performance is judged by hours in the office rather than outcomes.
The Equilibrium Man Challenge is continuing throughout 2015. By the end of the year, we’ll have a good picture of how the personal flexibility journeys of our five Equilibrium Men have taken shape.
Meanwhile, we’ll continue to examine attitudes about work, life and flexibility among Australians and document the shift to flexible work practices in Australian organisations.
The Equilibrium Challenge initiative is committed to supporting gender equality in Australian workplaces through greater access to flexible work arrangements.
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- Use the WGEA flexibility tools to build a flexibility strategy for your organisation.
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