Can a new mother work as part of a team? And what about the impact on other staff members?
FLEX APPEAL – By Harsha Gordhan
“An increasing number of women are returning to work soon after childhood for economic reasons”, says Cape Town industrial psychologist, Ann Werner. “These women often desire flexitime in order to ease back into the workforce and to be with children as much as possible”. To ensure happy workers, companies must know how to manage any difficulties that may arise, she says.
Cause for Conflict
“People hold beliefs about the value of their contributions at work and how well these contributions are recognised and rewarded,” says Werner. Rewards can take the form of remuneration or fringe benefits, such as company cars, career development, day care arrangements and magazine subscriptions. Peoples’ beliefs are often formed in a social context in which people compare how well they are being treated with how well they believe others are being treated, and if they feel their work isn’t recognised they become unhappy, says Werner. Liesbet accepts that she occasionally puts in extra time for Jayne, because their friendship is important to her. She is also younger and hopes to one day hold a senior position in the company.
In this situation, the bigger concern is the potential conflict with all the other employees – those with or without children - also wanting the same flexitime opportunities. The special treatment given to Jayne could be seen as unfair and unethical, as it seems it was based on individual preference rather than on company policy.
In order for everyone to be treated equally, clear guidelines regarding flexi-time should appear in the company policy and this should be communicated to staff. This will help prevent misunderstandings, for example, that flexi-time applies only to women with children. “Just as a mother will need to leave work to meet her child’s needs, so another employee may need to leave work because their elderly parent has fallen ill,” says Werner. Thus, if Liesbet ever has a family emergency requiring her to work flexitime, Jayne, within reason, should be willing to work overtime in order to get the required work done.
Resolving the Issue
Once any employee has been granted flexitime, the situation should be monitored.
Individual circumstances always need to be reassessed. Jayne’s flexi-time was initially approved because she and Liesbet had built up a reputation as a productive team. However, if Jayne finds she is not handling her duties, she should consider taking a drop in salary. The disadvantage of a lower salary may or may not outweigh the advantage of managing her domestic responsibilities, says Werner.
Read the Fine print
In the event of any conflict, the management team must be proactive. Talking is important and brainstorming may be an effective way to come up with solutions that suit everyone. For example, Jayne could take on less responsibility and a junior person could be hired to help Liesbet manage her time more effectively. Liesbet could also be offered more opportunity for development and growth within the company.
It is also imperative that flexitime practices be documented policies and applicable to everyone in the organisation.
The good news is that a kinship often develops between women in the workplace, says Werner. “And with this often comes an understanding of motherhood and its unique needs, rather than discrimination against it,” she says.
* Not their real names.
Harsha Gordhan is a Junior Research Executive and freelance writer based in Durban