I once worked with someone who said those words to me. She was hinting that a senior leader had commented negatively about my absence from the office the previous day. She reassured me that she had “got my back” and I honestly think she believed that my not being in the same building as my colleagues – even though I was still working at home – was a problem that my employer might penalise me for.
The reality was that the senior leader had been concerned that I was OK, because he knew that I was still working while also caring for a poorly child at home. He was being a good manager. My other colleague was suggesting that working parents who carefully juggle multiple, often conflicting, commitments, might not be trusted to perform their work duties properly. Really, she was telling me that she believed that.
Luckily I was well-regarded by the people who mattered, and trusted to manage my own workload to meet my deadlines. But I found it really disappointing to hear those words and understand that this was a person who thought it was OK to whisper little passive aggressive accusations.
In the 20-something years since I began my professional career I have seen beliefs and attitudes change greatly. Today we enjoy an atmosphere of greater trust and transparency than before. But we have further to travel in order to arrive in a place where truly agile working co-exists with the demands of family life.
We know that remote working and flexibility in working hours makes it possible to shut down an old-fashioned era of 9-5 presenteeism for many jobs. But the reality in many workplaces can be vastly different. The perception that people who leave the office because their child needs them or in time for the school run have an easier life than colleagues who don’t is unhelpful. Yes, the onus should be on those individuals to make sure that they meet their work responsibilities and support their team, but – as long as it works for the the team they’re in – there’s no reason that they shouldn’t be able to log on again from home to wrap up their working day, or flex their hours across the week to fit in with other commitments.
Actually I know from my own experience that I usually do extra work on those days because I don’t want colleagues to feel I’m letting them down and I’m sure that many others do the same.
I love that I now see so many people joining together to encourage deeper understanding of how important family-friendly working arrangements are. Because if we don’t find a way to make this work then we will continue to lose so much talent when people who might have returned to work after having kids just can’t find a way to make the 9-5 work.
I’m working for a fabulous company at the moment that trusts its employees, treats them as adults not children, and empowers them to find a way to achieve great things at work without feeling like an absent parent at home. We need more companies like this!