That’s why Yost advocates a “reason neutral” approach to flexible schedules, a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” for the workplace. Instead of having to explain why they need the flexibility, employees should simply share how they’re going to get the work done.
Getting managers to sign on without knowing the reason is understandably tricky, though. Not only are there face-time expectations but, inevitably, there are times when they need to decide which request to honor over another. Sooner or later, a manager will have to make a call about whether the employee who has to fly to Omaha for a big, last-minute sales pitch is the one with a sick child at home or the one with a final exam for graduate school the next evening.
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There are no easy answers, but everyone knows who tends to win out in that scenario — or in a case where two colleagues ask to leave early and one has a cutoff for day-care pickup while the other has a dinner date. As adults, obligations to children are a priority. It takes a village, and all that. At the same time, having children is a choice parents make, and it’s simply unfair to ask non-parents to do more than their share at the office. We all have families, they just take different forms. We all have a life outside of work.
So what can managers do? Ultimately, they have to find ways to make sure non-parents’ needs don’t always come last. And the initial step, Ryan says, is to show employees that it’s okay to have workplace flexibility for something other than picking up your kids. “They need to model that behavior for employees.” If a single thirty-something sees her boss leave early to help his elderly mother or to volunteer at a local school, she’ll feel more comfortable asking for permission to do so, too.
Here’s the thing: The more non-parents speak up about the issue — and feel like they’re getting a fair shake in the ongoing work-life balance conversation — the less it becomes marginalized as just a women’s issue or a parents-with-young-children’s issue. When that happens, things might get just a little better for all of us.
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