Future of work: Why companies should look at the right flexible policies

A LinkedIn study reported India is on the brink of a ‘flexidus’ as women professionals are rejecting offers and quitting jobs due to lack of flexibility.

Future of work: Why companies should look at the right flexible policies

Tuesday May 17, 2022,

9 min Read

After the Great Resignation, a new term has entered the workplace lexicon, ‘flexidus’, referring to the current exodus of women professionals from the workforce due to a lack of flexible policies.

A recent LinkedIn report revealed that seven in 10 working women in India have quit or are considering quitting their jobs due to a lack of flexibility. It found that poor employer sentiment towards flexible working and career breaks is holding women back from asking for greater flexibility and re-entering the workforce.

Two years since the coronavirus pandemic forced us all to rethink how we work, the debate on whether it is really beneficial to work from home continues. As the pandemic life recedes, many companies too are asking employees to return to physical offices.

However, not everyone wants to go back. A machine learning director at Apple is leaving due to the company’s return to work policy, tweeted a Verge reporter last week. In fact, Inc42 reported homegrown edtech startup WhiteHat Jr saw 800 employees resign after they were told to return to the office within a month.

On the benefits of flexible working, the LinkedIn report states that two in five women said it improves their work-life balance and helps them progress in their careers, while one in three said it improves their mental health and increases their likelihood of staying in their current jobs.


Finding the right "flexibility"

And ‘flexibility’ can mean different things for different people.

“Flexibility at the workplace does not mean just remote working. It means a better understanding of women’s mental health, unconscious bias and also pay parity. It is restricted to family-oriented policies,” says Medha*, a researcher at a marketing research firm in Mumbai.

For Sneha*, an advertising professional from Bengaluru, the initial two months of working from home were challenging because of a lack of help. However, she soon eased into a comfortable routine in about four months.

“Working from home made me more productive. I gained the time I would normally spend on commuting and being stuck in the city’s infamous traffic jams. Since my five-year-old was at home, I was able to spend quality time with her and saw her growing in front of my eyes, which wouldn’t have been possible if I had to go to the office every day, she says.

On the other hand, Maitri*, an HR professional based in Kochi, joined her workplace during the pandemic. Her organisation mandates attendance in the office two half-days a week.

“This flexibility gives me enough time to spend with my four-year-old son and at the same time, I can now meet my colleagues face-to-face and be part of an office culture,” she says.

It is clear that women are bearing the brunt of inflexibility as companies start returning to offices after working from home for two years.

The LinkedIn report also points out that India’s working women are paying heavy penalties to work flexibly. Nine in 10 working women had to take a pay cut, two in five had their flexible working request denied, and one in four struggled to convince their bosses to accept their request.

This has made women reluctant towards asking for greater flexibility because they fear exclusion, being held back from promotions, working overtime, taking pay cuts, and being treated unfavourably by their superiors.

As schools reopen and many organisations transition back to the workplace, a JobsForHer survey among 8,000 working mothers revealed that 38.6 percent consider flexible work schedules their top priority and 32.3 percent prefer remote work options. Also, 17 percent said they expect child-care assistance at the workplace and 12.1 percent voted for mental health support to achieve a better work-life balance and advance their careers.

At the core of a flexible work policy is a culture where women can thrive and succeed.

Neha Bagaria, Founder of JobsForHer says, “Flexible work schedules and remote work options are no longer a bonus but expected features of the workplace so that working parents, not just mothers, can manage their multiple responsibilities and bring their best to work."

women entrepreneur

India needs higher female participation in the workforce.

Flexibility drives productivity

In December 2021, Jyoti Bowen Nath, Managing Partner for Claricent Partners, wrote in an opinion piece for YourStory, “Flexibility in work timings are on the rise as a lot of working women, who had to take either a sabbatical or a temporary break as they found it difficult to manage a full-time job, are now being engaged for a specific project or outcome-based assignments, which are quality-oriented, timeline driven, and flexible.”

According to Gartner 2021 Digital Worker Experience Survey, 43 percent of respondents claim that flexibility in working hours helped them achieve greater productivity while 30 percent said that less or no time commuting enabled them to be more productive. 

Even before the pandemic, a 2019 study by the International Workplace Group found that 80 percent of workers would turn down a job that did not offer a flexible work schedule for one that did, and 76 percent of workers said they would consider staying at their current employer if they could work flexible hours.

Sadiya Khan, Founder of Akund Communications put this into perspective. "For most Indian working women, responsibilities do not end with her stepping out of the office; she's already planning and co-ordinating housework from wherever she is...This has always been the case, but what's added to the stress is the commuting problems and traffic where we end up spending more hours on the road than in the office or home. The pandemic has shown that it's possible to overcome these challenges with the WFH (work-from-home) and hybrid culture,” she says.

“Besides, flexibility at the workplace has more benefits going for it—improved work-life balance for women and helps them make progress in their careers as well as enjoy good mental health. It also helps companies keep a check on the attrition rate as flexibility at work increases the chances of people staying in their jobs for a longer duration. I am all for flexibility at work, especially in public relations (PR) as we have more women than men working in this profession,” she adds.

In fact, a PwC study revealed that 54 percent of workers want to continue working remotely after the pandemic.

Oindrila Chauhan, Senior Director, Global Talent Acquisition, Microsoft, says that the company always had flexibility even before the pandemic. “We offer as much flexibility as possible to support individual work styles, while balancing business needs, and ensuring we live our culture. Our Hybrid Workplace guidelines allow for flexibility in work site (physical space where we work), work location (geographic location where we work), and work hours. As an example, working from home up to 50 percent of work time is considered standard for most roles.


Women are rejecting offers due to a lack of flexibility

Office as we knew it is over

Earlier this month, Airbnb announced that its employees could “work from anywhere”, giving the new normal brought about by the pandemic a permanent residency. The company’s staff can now live and work in over 170 countries for up to 90 days a year in each location without any change to their compensation.

In an interview with Time, Brain Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, said, "I think that the office, as we know it, is over. We can't try to hold on to 2019 any more than 1950. We have to move forward.

Closer home, social commerce unicorn Meesho announced a ‘work from anywhere’ policy in February, adding that employees also have the option to work at its multiple satellite offices if they choose to do so.

Some companies are now navigating the different ways they can bring back employees to the office but still offer flexibility.

Priya Cherian, Chief People Officer, PayU, says, “As we bring women and employees back to the workplace, the months between March to May are a transition period to give women and other employees adequate time to prepare for the hybrid model. Once offices reopen in June, employees have the flexibility to choose from 2-3 (two days from the office) or 3-2 (three days from the office) options based on their preferences. We offer a child care policy, where working mothers and single fathers are provided a subsidy per child. PayU offers working mothers flexible working hours and for those coming to the office; it has a nursing room for new mothers to nurse and expecting mothers to relax.”

Bahwan CyberTek (BCT), has resumed operations from office, but continues to function in a flexible model. “Employees, especially women with caregiving responsibilities, are opting for a hybrid or remote work model choosing to work from home with two ‘collaboration at-office days’ a week or in certain cases, entirely from home. We appreciate the need for providing such women employees the flexibility to operate out of their homes,” says Mike Muralidharan, Chief Operating Officer.

Matuli Madhusmita Swain, Writer, Marketing Communications Strategist, Consultant and Coach has an interesting perspective on how flexidus can be stopped. “Flexible workspaces are a good option for women as they multitask a lot more. Another aspect of work flexibility to look at is second career innings for women employees, or allow hybrid work structures for women managers, employees who have had a child during the pandemic. This will ensure a smoother work transition for them, and also ensure the women participation ratio in the workforce does not drop more.”

“Companies can also look at hiring temporary employees on project basis, which is popular in other countries and ensures a greater work culture amalgamation of hybrid models as well as employees who aren’t on full-time payroll. This will ensure stronger participation of untapped talent as well,” she adds.

However, it remains to be seen if more companies can adopt the right “flexible” policies, and how they can impact the participation of women in the workforce.

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta