Jennifer is a comptroller at a hedge fund that has billions of dollars under management. She is responsible for supervising the quality of all the fund’s accounting and financial reporting. She has a decade of experience in her field and she has been promoted three times in the past seven years. But under her employer’s rules, she is not allowed to arrive at the office after 8:30 a.m. (no matter how late she stays), she is not allowed to leave her desk before 5:30 p.m (no matter how early she arrives), and she is never, ever, allowed to work from home.
Dave is a program manager at a large foundation, where he has worked for six years. His program has an annual grant-making budget of $10 million. He has five staffers reporting to him, he has a master’s degree and a PhD, and he is a published author renowned in his field. But under his employer’s rules, he is not allowed to arrive at the office after 8:30 a.m. (no matter how late he stays), he is not allowed to leave his desk before 5:30 p.m (no matter how early he arrives), and he is never, ever, allowed to work from home.
Jennifer and Dave are responsible for ensuring that millions of dollars are properly accounted for. They are trusted with sensitive and confidential information. They are highly educated, experienced, and respected, and they have a proven track record of performance at their organizations. But they are not allowed to choose to work remotely in the mornings and schedule meetings at the office in the afternoon, or to take a 2-hour lunch on Wednesday but a half-hour lunch on Thursday.
If this seems absurd, that’s because it is absurd. Jennifer and Dave are not in primary school. There is no place for a “best attendance” or “never tardy” award at work. We go to school as children to learn how to behave as adults; surely once we are old enough to vote, we should be judged on our productivity and performance, not on our ability to follow arbitrary rules.
Jennifer and Dave may have spouses, or they may not. They may have kids, or they may not. Their reasons for wanting to start or leave work early one day and late the next, or for wanting to work from home one afternoon and in the office the next, are irrelevant. Instead, just as they are responsible for getting their jobs done, Jennifer and Dave should also be responsible for defining the parameters in which that happens (and effectively communicating those parameters with their colleagues). All that should matter is that they do their jobs and do them well.
That’s what should matter. In reality, Jennifer and Dave’s inane circumstances are the norm in too many workplaces across the U.S.
Organizations put a huge amount of time, energy, and money into hiring qualified and motivated employees. Jennifer and Dave are particularly accomplished, but once a company hires any staff member, the company has judged that person competent and capable of doing his or her job. If that person proves the company right, then he or she does not deserve to be treated as child.
Clearly, not every job can accommodate consistent remote work, longer lunch hours, late starts, or early finishes. If Dave were a nurse, or a teacher, he couldn’t arbitrarily decide to work remotely one afternoon. If Jennifer were a chef, or a bank teller, she couldn’t just leave work early one day while customers waited to be served. But as a nurse, or a teacher, or a chef, or a bank teller, Dave and Jennifer would be fully aware of what their jobs entail. They would not need to be taught what it will be like at work when they grow up one day. And if the restaurant had a slow night, or the doctor’s office had no patients scheduled for the following morning, then surely chef Jennifer and nurse Dave could judge for themselves whether it would be feasible or appropriate for them to arrive a little late or leave a little early .
At its core, flexibility at work is about respect. Imagine what we could accomplish if we were all treated like adults.