Because I am a woman

Why are organizations across geographies and industry going flexi? – Part 2

Women are more likely to experience burnout than men because of low self-esteem and poor division of labour outside of the workplace.
Published at legal search and consulting firm Vahura.

Companies across sectors are moving in sync with time and responding to new realities by recalibrating their businesses from top-down to nimble network-like, deploying tech-solutions, and creating a robust workforce. 

Let’s look at two obvious realities compelling this shift towards flexi-working. Even as these realities existed in the pre-COVID world, their impact has only increased now when the workforce in every part of the globe has been compelled to report to work, remotely. We understood in our blog Rising above COVID with Agile Work Policies how critical it is to build an agile workforce today in thick of the dramatic consequences of COVID. Just like organizations have well thought out HR policies essential to running an effective and motivated workforce, it is now as essential to lay down an agile work policy that meets your business goals marrying the changing times and employee expectations.

The burn out epidemic.

The always-on, always-available work culture means that work hours have become stretched. Taken at its most basic, laptops and smartphones mean that people are online and contactable 24/7, no matter where they are in the world. There really is no cut off time. You can no longer say “I’ll work from 9am to 6pm” and post that live my personal life. 

About half the managers’ worldwide work more than 40 hours per week and 40% say their hours have increased in the past 5 years. 75% of the participants in the 2019 WIRED-Baker McKenzie survey said that frictionless internal communications (email, chat, video calls, document sharing and professional social media) helped their organization to become responsive and agile, but four out of ten participants thought these same tools could cause distraction and burnout. And 74%, said that companies needed rules to avoid an always-on work culture. That only necessitates the need for a bespoke agile work policy.

Professionals today are much more likely to have a spouse or partner working full-time, increasing the need for multi-tasking. Add to that, cities are getting congested, and commutes even longer. 

As a result, about 89% of the sandwich generation between 35-49 years suffer from stress, followed by 87% of millennials, and 64% of those age above 50. According to a 2019 survey of 3,000 employees from IT, manufacturing, financial sector and startups, 1 out of every 5 employees of India Inc. suffers from workplace depression due to blurring lines between work and personal life. 42.5% of the employees in the private sector of corporate India suffer from depression or some form anxiety disorder. 

Not surprisingly, women are more likely to experience burnout than men because of low self-esteem and poor division of labour outside of the workplace. Unfavourable working conditions such as fewer professional advancement opportunities and more frequent occupation of low-authority roles hit women harder than their male counterparts. 38% of working women in India show signs of psychiatric morbidity.

All this has a huge impact on businesses. WHO estimates that India will suffer economic losses amounting to 1.03 trillion dollars from mental health conditions between 2012 and 2030. Exhausted employees and low morale is not good for anyone. Hence, professionals today are more than aware of the consequences. They are actively worried about their mental health and need for wholesome living.

In such scenarios, flexi-work models seem to be a logical and sustainable solution. Several companies in India Inc. including EY, Hindustan Unilever and WeWork are stepping up their employee policies for a healthy work-life balance and controlled attrition rate. 

Outside India, companies are actively responding to the burnout challenge with flexi-working. British Telecom has already transferred 80% of its workforce in the UK to agile practices for enhanced staff health, staff retention and contentment, and to cut stress-related illness. Sodexo Belgium encourages its employees to arrive late and leave early to work from home, allowing them to avoid stressful rush hour commutes. 3 in 4 employees in Singapore have the flexibility to work from home, or outside office hours. Singapore’s Ministry for Manpower recognizes that flexible working arrangements make a conducive work environment. 

Even in the legal sector, 42% of summer associates at 82 of the world’s largest firms surveyed by the American Lawyer said that their well-being as an attorney mattered to them. They listed work-life balance as one of the top 3 factors in evaluating a law firm’s job offer. So international law firms are responding to this need. Junior lawyers at London-based Linklaters can work from home without explaining why. Shearman & Sterling has since 2016 allowed 2 days of working from home per month. Benenati Law Firm in Florida adopted a 4-day workweek to give employees an extra day to run errands, attend to personal matters and spend time with family. DAC Beachcroft may launch a ‘flexi-lawyer’ service. 

It is apparent that flexi-work models are being used across sectors and geographies to offer a breath of fresh air, a sign of wanting to do things better by using employees’ time and energy on achieving productivity and a balanced life, and not pressing a culture of process and commute.

The changing sociology of the modern workforce. 

The workforce today is evolving with an increasing number of millennials and Gen Z. Traditionally established businesses are grappling with their values and aspirations as the concept of ‘jobs for life’ is getting scarce. Most millennials show a remarkable preference to work in agile start-ups because they are open to flexi-working, promise openness to lead fulfilling lives, and work-life integration. Even employees of conservatively set up businesses are watching the way start-ups are delivering results. According to LinkedIn’s 2020 Global Talent Trends Report, while for Boomers ‘company with a purposeful mission’ is a top priority, for millennials and Gen Z ‘inspirational colleagues and culture’ matter the most. 

In my experience at leading a corporate communications consultancy, millennials in my team of business writers and designers questioned, and rightly so, the need to sit in office to do their work, or the need for permission to step out for creative stimulation. I’m reminded of a telling comment in ABA Journal. “How much are you thinking about millennials? If your answer is “not much,” you are not paying attention to business.” Millennials don’t just ask for flexibility. They expect it. Don’t give it, they’ll walk away. There is a reason the catchphrase ‘OK Boomer’ was born!

Some companies have taken the cue and are taking active steps to integrate the aspirations and approach of millennials and GenZ in their organizations’ processes and philosophy. Here are a couple of interesting examples.

In 2019, E.ON an international energy supplier based in Germany piloted a series of journeys and personas based on generation such as Gen Z or Millennial. Using digital listening, the company gathers feedback throughout the most important touch points in each journey allowing targeted insights to make candidate and employee journeys more effective. This helps identify the biggest pain points for each target group and enables ongoing measurement and optimization. 

Estée Lauder Companies created a reverse-mentorship program in 2016. It paired high-performing Millennial and Gen Z talent with executive leaders to help them stay current in the latest digital, social media, and shopping preferences of these consumers. Now in 2020, with over 470 reverse-mentor participants, with 300 executives in over 22 countries, the program has grown to offer regular one-on-one mentoring as well as reverse mentor advisory boards made of Millennial and Gen Z employees who work on strategic projects for brands, regions, and functions across the company. 

Khaitan with a huge chunk of its workforce made of millennials, took the first step in the India’s legal sector towards work-from-home. From November 2018, all members who’ve been with the firm for at least 3 years could work from home for up to 12 days per year. And with prior approval from HR and team leaders, Khaitan lawyers can come in at 11am, provided they log at least 9 hours. Alternatively, they could also come in at 8am and leave by 5pm.  

Corresponding to millennials and Gen Z joining the workforce, co-working spaces are burgeoning. India stands first in the APAC region where flexible spaces account for more than 3% of the overall office stock. By 2025, India will see a 5-fold jump in its demand for flexi-workspaces. Enter a co-working space and you’ll be wowed with startups working remotely across geographies efficiently. I recently met a satellite team of a healthcare company with over 40 employees spread over the globe. They had devolved methods to stay connected and ‘visible’ such as a weekly Skype call across geographies to see each other, garner the vibe, nourish connectivity beyond projects, and ask questions from the founders of the company. The 4 member India team of the 40 employees was upbeat and productive. The global trend too is moving towards greater use of virtual offices. FlySpaces is serving mobile professionals. 

Being flexible is positive. Being flexible is futuristic. And being flexible makes perfect business sense. Isn’t it futile to continue sitting on a gold mine of diverse untapped talent simply because you insist on sticking to work-styles that were laid down in the 1990s? 

So, while enjoying chocolate and vanilla scoops is alright, it’s time to dig into the kaleidoscopic unicorn flavour. Consider all employment options. Be open and creative. And offer your modern workforce new staffing models that actually work. Because businesses that have done that are already enjoying competitive advantage. 

This article was published at Vahura.

Seizing cross-functional opportunities at work
My father once told me “You can achieve whatever you want in your life, betu, whatever you want!”

I’d love to hear your thoughts.