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Workplace Flexibility


What She Said Series on Workplace Flexibility based on Community Survey of Women in the Workplace

Flex Location

The Community Survey of Women in the Workplace (CSWW) was open from September through December of 2022. The COVID pandemic was well past its peak, and workplaces had largely returned to normal — or at least a new normal. Of the women who participated in the survey, 55% reported typically working at their employer’s location; 16% typically worked remotely; and 29% reported having a hybrid arrangement.


Overall, 66% of CSWW respondents indicated that working from home occasionally is very important or essential as a workplace benefit, while 41% indicated a preference to work from home all or most of the time.


Flex Time

A 2023 global workplace benefits study by Deloitte made a notable discovery: “For organizations that want to retain and engage women in the workforce, when work takes place is emerging as one of the new priorities.” This is supported by the CSWW data. More than three-quarters (77%) of women participating in CSWW consider flex time (same total hours with greater schedule flexibility) as an absolutely essential or very important workplace benefit, outranking remote work options.


Contrary to previous thinking, the pandemic and increased flexibility did not dampen women’s ambitions. In fact, McKinsey’s 2023 Study of Women in the Workplace found that roughly 80% of women desire a promotion, compared with 70% in 2019. Those numbers are on par with men. Workplace flexibility options can help make that dream a reality. McKinsey says women link workplace flexibility with increased job retention, more focused work time, and reduced burnout and fatigue — all of which have been proven to benefit employers.


"The pandemic showed women that a new model of balancing work and life was possible. Now, few want to return to the way things were. Most women are taking more steps to prioritize their personal lives—but at no cost to their ambition. They remain just as committed to their careers and just as interested in advancing as women who aren’t taking more steps. These women are defying the outdated notion that work and life are incompatible, and that one comes at the expense of the other."



chart showing CSWW responses to rank the importance of certain workplace flexibility benefits

Flexibility Reduces Burnout

In the Deloitte study, 14% of women cited inflexible working hours as the main reason they left their jobs. (This factor was second only to insufficient pay, which garnered 18%.) Overall, 83% of CSWW respondents reported feeling burned out at least sometimes; 47% indicated they feel burned out often or almost always. This is slightly higher than national data reported by the 2022 Women in the Workplace study by McKinsey, which found that 43% of women feel burned out.


Qualitative responses garnered at the 2023 REACH Women’s Conference emphasized the importance of workplace flexibility in preventing stress and burnout. Julia Townsend, founder and co-president of REACH Women’s Network said of those findings: “No matter the solution, women agreed they want more flexibility, and importantly, they want it without judgment.” The lack of judgment is a key piece of the puzzle.


“No matter the solution, women agreed they want more flexibility, and importantly, they want it without judgment.” – Julia Townsend

Fear of Taking Advantage of Benefits

Deloitte reports that in 2023, 97% of the 5,000 women they surveyed believe that requesting or taking advantage of flexible working opportunities affects their likelihood of promotion. When asked the same question, 34% of CSWW respondents agreed. While that relative comparison is certainly positive news for Forsyth County, this is still a troubling statistic. The fear is greater among Millennials and Gen Z who are more likely to have young children in their households.

bar chart showing percentages of women who fear asking for flexible working opportunities will affect promotion chances. Deloitte result (97%), overall CSWW (34%), and Millennial/GenZ (42%)

Boundaries

Boundaries has been a buzzword for decades, but employers, supervisors, and employees alike still struggle in this area. Townsend says of the qualitative data collected at the REACH Women’s Conference, “Women want respect during their time off. This means limiting emails during evenings, weekends, and vacations; job back-ups for a more restful PTO; and normalizing not working on the weekends.”


"Women want respect during their time off." – Julia Townsend

This is a culture shift that needs to be modeled from the top of an organization. If a supervisor is sending emails to his or her team members on evenings and weekends, there is more pressure on those employees to respond outside of normal working hours. That can quickly become a norm, then an expectation.


Employer Takeaways

  • McKinsey’s 2023 Study of Women in the Workplace found that employers significantly underrate the importance of flexible work options when compared to their surveyed employees.

  • Women value remote work options as an employment benefit. That is especially true among Millennial and Gen Z women.

  • Encouraging and respecting reasonable work/life boundaries is key in supporting women. This may require additional intentionality in hybrid or fully remote work environments.

  • Giving employees more schedule flexibility is likely to reduce burnout and improve job satisfaction and retention, particularly among women.

  • Company policies should clearly communicate (authentically so) that taking advantage of flexible working opportunities will not negatively impact a person’s chances for advancement. Encouraging supervisors to model the behavior by tapping into those same benefits, at least periodically, could help reinforce this.

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