Saturday, January 24, 2004

The way we work: “no flexibility thanks, we’re client focussed.”

An interesting piece from home in The Age about the battle for flexible working conditions:

[A] survey found that workers are trapped in "long hours" cultures trying to demonstrate company commitment to the detriment of their personal lives. Companies have created isolating, hostile and unsupportive environments for employees who have commitments outside the organisation, and poor attitudes and resistance from middle management and supervisors are quashing progress.

Unsurprisingly, corporate law firms come out of surveys looking fairly monolithic and unsupportive, with anyone (especially women) wanting to work part-time needing to check their career ambitions at the door.

(When an accounting firm can say 15% of people now have flexible options because “there are a lot of women choosing to have children”, the implicit family/career dichotomy speaks volumes.)

I think the common law firm experience is that those who go part-time wind up being paid less (obviously), but find themselves still doing very nearly the same amount of work in fewer working days. In fairness, being a client-driven industry makes it harder for the big firms to offer flexibility, but when that very lack of flexibility fuels a high turnover rate – well, that’s a business cost as well and you’d have to think some sensible balance could be struck.

A key issue appears to remain the widely-held idea that working from home is a “soft” option that inherently means less commitment and productivity. On the flipside, the first company to come up with a genuinely “flexible” employment model that can fairly measure and manage home-working employee productivity will have a big recruitment advantage, as employees value the flexibility often over higher pay.

Not sure I see it working in the legal industry though. My theory has always been there are enough driven high-fliers to fill the ranks of most large firms, negating the incentive to offer genuine work-life balance. (Remember this blog on the lawyer-life?)

If you find fulfilment in your work alone though, they’re certainly great places to be.

Me? Maybe I could work those hours if I felt I was having a genuine impact on public policy. Otherwise, I’d rather earn less and enjoy what I do more. Sounds like academia or government advisory work, really, doesn’t it?

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