Flexibility only goes so far, say two experts, and covers a small part of a healthy and respectful work culture.
Tracy Fogale, senior manager of benefits at Kraft Heinz Canada:
While flexibility is a critical way to retain employees, particularly women, in the workforce, it can’t tackle systemic issues such as the gender pay gap, workplace discrimination and women’s lack of representation in senior positions.
Kraft Heinz recognizes that flexibility requires a broader rethink on the meaning of work and the work-life relationship. Transparent, consistent and intentional flexibility is appreciated by all employees — and especially primary caregivers. We provide all Canadian employees with flexibility through our hybrid working model. This could be adjusting their workday to attend important family events or working from a different location for a period of time. It’s a key enabler to promoting an environment where all employees feel empowered to strive in both their personal and professional lives.
As a global organization, Kraft Heinz has made a commitment to supporting women in the workplace and was named to the 2022 Forbes list of the U.S.’s best employers for women. While we’re making great progress, our humility also provides us with room to grow. Our global strategy and commitment to having 50 per cent women representation in senior roles also means we need to ensure we have the right framework in place.
Our current benefits programs reflect this, from our childcare subsidies, emergency back-up childcare and elder-care support to our phased return to work from maternity leave — just to name a few. And while we can have all of the right programs in place, the key to success is building a culture that supports women. This starts with leaders establishing boundaries and expectations from the top down.
Ultimately, both men and women need to have equal access to equal success in working flexibly. At Kraft Heinz, we’re committed to supporting and championing women within our organization; this means embracing where we are today and looking to the future to do even better.
Arla Day, professor of occupational health psychology at Saint Mary’s University:
Even though I’ve been a vocal proponent of work flexibility for more than 25 years, it isn’t the key to retention — not only because it isn’t feasible for many workers, such as bus drivers, grocery store workers, cleaners and waitstaff, to work remotely or have flexible hours, but also because thinking that flexibility is ‘the’ key to preventing turnover is akin to offering apples to staff as ‘the’ panacea for unhealthy workplaces.
Although both initiatives are helpful, they only comprise a small surface part of a healthy and respectful work culture. And without this underlying culture, these actions have little impact on attrition.
Moreover, we already know that the key factors influencing retention involve how we treat workers: turnover intentions are strongly associated with mistreatment, such as incivility, bullying and abusive supervision. A respectful culture means we want the best for our workers. We want them to be part of our organization. We want them to be healthy and happy. We want them to be able to successfully balance their work and non-work commitments. To do this, we want to provide the supports they need (including flexibility) to ensure they want to — and are able to — stay in their jobs and do them effectively.
Therefore, although flexibility can be an outcome of this respectful relationship, it isn’t the solution in and of itself. The problem with seeing flexibility — or any single work protocol — as the cure for turnover is that we ignore the underlying culture — and solutions — driving these positive initiatives.
So what’s going to keep women from leaving the workforce? The same things that keep most of us at our jobs: being respected and treated well, in terms of being fairly compensated, being heard, having work-life balance (which flexibility can help achieve), being included and having the resources to do our jobs effectively.