On International Women’s Day 2022, our Head of Employment, Rhian Radia, hosted a webinar for HR professionals and business leaders on the subject of the new world of work.
It has become very clear that, post-pandemic, our working lives have changed beyond recognition and possibly for good. Our webinar looked at how things have changed and considered how this might impact organisations in the future.
A number of the questions raised related to presenteeism and equality.
This article outlines the questions asked, and Rhian’s expert opinion.
Is it fair to ask whether any of the arrangements we are seeing in relation to changing working practices affect women more than men?
Is a return to presenteeism something which is likely to work against women more than men in your view?
I can see how issues relating to presenteeism could have a negative impact on women although we can’t make assumptions here.
Women and men alike are likely to have enjoyed the flexibility of home working afforded by the pandemic and want that to continue. It is not always women who have primary childcaring responsibilities even if this is assumed to be the case – and flex is not always driven by childcare related issues.
If it is the case that more men rather than women are “on the ground” in the office as we move forward, I can see potential issues.
All too often work is allocated to the nearest person without further thought. Missing out on valuable work opportunities by not being in the office could hinder promotion and progression. It will be important that those working remotely are not simply forgotten so that working from home becomes career-limiting in the long run. Also, we are seeing a return to “live” in-person training which could lead to those working from home missing out.
Companies who want to promote flex working need to be thinking ahead and putting policies in place, as well as training managers to be alert to the fact that times have changed. Out of sight should not be out of mind!
Is it fair to say perhaps that women have made a better job of flexible remote working because they’ve had to work in this way more than men?
If this was something that women were already doing before the pandemic, then perhaps the move to remote working was not such a big shift.
But how to define ‘doing a better job’ of remote working? What does that look like? It can’t just be linked to output. I don’t think many of us were prepared for 100% home working during lockdown. This resulted in different challenges from blurring the start and end of the working day to feeling isolated.
How do we manage differentiation in accepting some flexible working requests and refusing others? For example, a lot of people have suggested that those in ‘junior’ roles should be in more often than senior staff for learning and training purposes?
This is definitely a tricky area and much will depend upon your specific sector and organisation. There is a possible age discrimination risk associated with treating younger employees differently, although it does not necessarily translate that just because someone is junior they are young, as they may have had a career change.
Again, assumptions are best avoided! The key thing will be to make sure that you have a policy in place, where you set expectations, try to anticipate the issues that people may face and how you can best support them.
Encourage open dialogue with your employees so that if something isn’t working, they know that they are able to raise this with you. Provided you have a business rationale for needing something to happen in a certain way and you have recorded this, then this will put you in a better position to justify any policy you put in place.
Is the truth of remote working that someone, somewhere has to take up the slack?
This seems like quite an old-fashioned way of looking at remote working. It has the feel of that negative ‘let’s not open the floodgates and accept flexible working requests’ type of thinking. It also suggests that if someone is working from home they are not really working. Why assume that productivity would be impacted? On the contrary, it could be enhanced given the proven benefits of flex on employee wellbeing and job satisfaction.
This is certainly not an area for blanket policies. Many employees will be empowered by having more choice about their working lives. Employee choice and an employer’s need for control over output don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
The above is accurate as at 18 March 2021. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times.
The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case by case basis.