Updated: Mar 27, 2019
A different version of this article has been published in the Destinations magazine in 2016.
My late grandmother was a housewife and my parents had childcare support from her throughout their careers, so it had never crossed my mind that working and raising children at the same time could be challenging. It became a reality for my husband and I after relocating to the UK and having to go through this experience for the past 10 years. It has definitely altered my perspective on working parents especially in the West after having witnessed the differences of parenting lifestyle in Asia and in the UK.
In Asia, it is common for a household to comprise of 3 generations and many employ a live-in helper. Living in a closely knitted community where everyone is dependent on each other is pretty much the norm. In UK, if both parents work, they tend to rely on various childcare options to thrive. Unfortunately, many mums and some dads whom I know gave up their careers after struggling to cope with full time job and children, and I can resonate with them because I personally have been through a lot of debates about this topic before I successfully secured a mutual agreement with my previous employer. However, the parents' course of actions and their life would be different if employers are able to offer flexible working. Of course this work arrangement is only applicable for non-operational and non-customer facing jobs, therefore I’m probably writing on behalf of a minority population.
There are many talks about how much the government and employers support flexible working, but in my opinion, the policy is only as good as how supportive the line manager is. Having a wide circle of friends from different cultural backgrounds, it’s a shame that only less than a handful have supportive employers because many corporations still have that unconscious bias towards mothers who intend to return to work after maternity. Due to this mindset, they limit their opportunities to talents who can contribute towards the company and economy. As a result, many women have no confidence in applying for any jobs for the anticipated fear of rejection. Some employers fail to recognize that women have very different ways of working from men and with a mixed workforce, they can actually get diverse and valuable talents combined and employers still wonder why they have low representations of women talent and in the senior executive board which causes the gender disparity in the workplace. Having said that, I was extremely pleased when the Chairman of my previous employer mentioned that he does not want everyone to be the same or copies of each other. Imagine 10 people who does things exactly the same way, what innovation is there?
I had an image of a prisoners camp where everyone is given the same outfit...
I had an image of a prisoners camp where everyone is given the same outfit, haircut, food and do exactly what he or she’s been commanded. This treatment does not encourage creativity and interests in what they do. I don’t believe we need managers with such character to run teams like the camp and who are merely excellent at executing authority but on the contrary, we need leaders who are capable of nurturing future leaders and have an agile thinking and behaviour that meet the rapid change of the environment and society at present.
Flexible working is not an excuse to do less work nor to be unavailable. As a matter of fact, throughout my 18 years of working experience of mixed full-time office based, part time and flexible working from home, I find the latter was the most testing and enduring but yet rewarding and meaningful. Some of my acquaintances and close friends shared that they would love to spend more time with the children but it is impossible with non-flexible employers who demand high presenteeism in the office. On the other hand, presenteeism doesn’t equal availability which many employers fail to distinguish. When adopting a flexible working policy, we have to appreciate that one has to be very focused, disciplined and organised in their work.
Whereas in a family, the frequent absenteeism of either parent has detrimental impact on children. Flexible working is important for parents especially those with school age children as that increases the opportunity for parents to attend school events and spend more time with the children after school and at the same time still capable to perform well in their jobs. This does not need to be a daily routine but with some work flexibility and the right time management and planning, a balance can be successfully achieved. Who else can be better parents other than the parents themselves?
It's a topic that is provocative and is still not openly discussed at ease within organizations. People still have some reservations and doubtful perceptions and opinions about people who work from home or work flexibly. If I were to circle back to the minority population, this group (mainly the new generation of millennials who have work life balance as their main priority in life) will take over the current workforce and they will make a remarkable difference in the upbringing of the children’s life for the future and the company if they were to be given some freedom of flexibility and that’s why I think it’s an advocacy worth fighting for!