Flexibility for all - What is workplace flexibility really and why is it important?

Comment'MyBioPharmaSpace'BioPharmaDispatch Executive

AbbVie HR Director Sue Jennings writes about the importance of workplace flexibility and the need for companies to 'just get on and do it'. 

When you ask about workplace flexibility sadly, the image that still comes to mind for many is a mum pushing a pram with a couple of small children. Why is this ‘past its use by date’ version of workplace flexibility still the one that springs to mind for so many people?

Why in 2019 are we still wondering about how to get flexibility right instead of just getting on and doing it so all of our busy lives can become a bit easier to manage?

Let us take a quick recap of the recent federal election. No one asked the Prime Minister or Labor leader Bill Shorten who would look after their children or how they would manage their family commitments if they got the top job, did they?

Yet Penny Wong, Tanya Plibersek and other female politicians are frequently asked those questions.

As Annabel Crabb points out so beautifully in ‘The Wife Drought’ (2015), "Having a spouse who takes care of things at home is a Godsend on the domestic front. It's a potent economic asset on the work front. And it's an advantage enjoyed, even in our modern society, by vastly more men than women. 

"But why is the work-and-family debate always about women? Why don't men get the same flexibility that women do? In our fixation on the barriers that face women on the way into the workplace, do we forget about the barriers that, for men, still block the exits?"

As Ms Crabb points out, the part of the conversation so often missed is, ‘Why do so many organisations make it more difficult for men to make use of flexible work than they do for women?’

It is not about laws or policies, these are in place. Research is clear on the advantages to both organisations and the individuals who work in them. So, is the key issue broader societal expectations?

In our modern world where we all juggle so much, we must simplify the approach to ‘what is best for us as a family now and figure out how we can make things work as well as possible for all of us – men and women'.

As one of my talented female colleagues recently pointed out, "My husband left his job as they did not think workplace flexibility was for men. This not only impacts his career, it also impacts mine."

AbbVie is a leader in flexible workplace practice. We understand that senior executives taking advantage of workplace flexibility is the factor most correlated to the presence of women in senior leadership positions (McKinsey). Our general manager and the executive team role model the use of flexible workplace practice.

This ensures that flexible work practices are deeply embedded in our culture. It is an approach based on trust rather than a particular program.

AbbVie is committed to providing all employees with flexible workplace practices. It enables them to balance their work and personal commitments.

We recognise that flexibility is personal and supports employees to take advantage of the flexibility options that best suit their needs.

We know this fosters employee engagement and morale and helps make us an employer of choice. It is an important part of our talent attraction and retention strategy.         

We continually consult our people to understand what we do well and where we could improve. They continue to tell us that workplace flexibility is the number one factor they value most about working at AbbVie.

We were recently named a finalist in the 2019 Ironfish HR awards for Best Workplace Flexibility program, Employer of Choice (99-1000 employees) and in Best Health and Wellbeing Program. In 2018 we were ranked seventh in the Great Place to Work Best Workplaces list; the only pharmaceutical company who has placed in the top 20 for the last six consecutive years.

What is more meaningful than this external recognition is the fact, when we ask our employees for feedback, they consistently celebrate we have got flexibility right at AbbVie. Not only do we have the formal practices in place, but we have the technology to support it and it is a deeply valued part of our culture that is supported from the very top.