Flexibility in the Future: Why 2023 Needs to Be a Win for Working Parents

Flexibility is top of mind for companies and employees lately — but for Werklabs, it has been a crucial topic for years. Since 2017, Werklabs has advocated for remote and flexible work, understanding how intricately it is linked to performance, especially for women, moms, and BIPOC talent. Their research has shown time and again how flexible and remote work increases retention, productivity, and sentiment within companies. 

Early signs of women and caregivers pushing the conventional boundaries of full-time work norms have been slowly emerging over the past five years, picked up by predictive analytics from Werklabs. But how will Werklabs’ pre-COVID predictions and the impact of the pandemic on the workforce come together to shift the narrative for working parents in 2023? We recently held a live session on LinkedIn to answer this important question.

​​With Dr. Pam Cohen, Chief Research and Analytics Officer, Werklabs, Adrian Young, Director of Customer Impact, Werklabs, and Elizabeth Shackelford, Senior Partner, Social + PR as moderator, we explored how past trends have shaped the future and what we expect to see in 2023.

The background: Work wasn't working 

As the research arm of The Mom Project, Werklabs strives to understand what matters to women in the workplace. Over the years, they have studied thousands of women and their preferences for work situations, linking this to performance outcomes such as loyalty and retention.

What they have discovered is groundbreaking. Consider these findings:

  • For a majority of women, flexibility at work is about as important as salary.
  • Flexibility in the absence of respect for flexibility really ends up not being helpful at all in the long run — women leave.
  • Across time, flexibility has continued to be absolutely essential to women.

“What has changed is that the expectation of flexibility and what it means has evolved across the pandemic. Companies have realized that flexibility can work. It’s no longer as much of a debate.  The questions are more about how to best make it work — and that’s a huge gain.” - Pam Cohen

Pam went on to point out that many women experienced the flexibility of working from home for the first time during the pandemic, often under difficult circumstances. But they realized that they were able to experience part of family life/children’s growth that they may have otherwise missed. Now, they’re not willing to go back to a more rigid way of working.

Adrian agreed, and pointed out that it has shifted from a preference for flexibility to a necessity. Many factors have affected this, one of the most prominent being the rising cost of child care, and in some cases, its lack of availability. She pointed out that the recent skyrocketing of flu cases, RSV, and continuing Covid over the past several weeks shows one example of why flexibility is so important.

This begs the question: what flexibility factors matter to caregivers? According to Werklabs, this includes:

  • A desire for organizations to respect flexibility in working hours
  • Leadership acknowledging employee responsibilities outside of work  
  • Leadership genuinely caring about employees' well-being 
  • Policies that provide practical support for flexibility

“The most significant driver we uncovered for women caregivers is the level of organization-wide support and respect for flexibility that’s present. This requires an understanding about the nuance of flexibility vs. accepting the limited binary conversations happening on the topic.” Adrian Young

How companies benefit from flexibility — and hiring more moms 

We’ve established that flexibility is great for moms and families, but how does it benefit employers? Pam pointed out that the data is clear: women, and particularly moms, make a positive impact on workplaces in many ways. 

Werklabs research has found that moms are consistently stated to make better and more empathetic managers and colleagues.

  • 23% of female employees with mom colleagues report having a more positive overall workplace experience than those with no mom colleagues
  • 81% of women surveyed who have managers that are moms ranked their manager as approachable
  • 80% of female employees report that DE&I efforts are a top priority at organizations where the CEO is a mom

It’s not just about workplace happiness. Female employees with mom colleagues rate their anticipated productivity for next year as 12% higher than those without mom colleagues.

The positive impact on women, caregivers and BIPOC

Flexibility isn’t just about convenience, according to Adrian. It serves as an element of workplace equity. 

“Leading with empathy requires perspective-taking. Our research finds that when it comes to remote and flexible work, Black and Latino professionals (and women as compared to me) experience less flexibility than they need in work — rating nearly every driver of flexibility lower than peer groups.” - Adrian Young

In essence, flexibility can bolster your DE&I goals. Cultivating flexible work experiences — showing organizational support, allowing for personal autonomy and managing with empathy — helps to create an inclusive culture for all.

Not meeting these flexibility needs can be detrimental. Data shows that Black, Latino, and female professionals are significantly less likely to recommend their employer and stay at their current organization if they are not meeting their needs. Flexibility can then serve as a valuable recruitment and retention tool, both for this underrepresented and highly contributing talent and for anyone who supports inclusivity.

Setting up employers for success in 2023

Now that we have the research, along with anecdotal evidence, that supports the multiple benefits of flexibility, how can companies best use this to their advantage in the future? First and foremost, we need to move on from the debate over whether 100% remote or back to work as usual is better — and evolve  to take a more broadened view that recognizes there are myriad influential factors at play, according to Adrian. In short, we need to take a more human approach to business and understand that when employees thrive in their personal lives, success at work follows.

Werklabs’ research illuminates the importance of organization-wide, top-down respect for flexible working conditions as a cornerstone and key driver to the beneficial outcomes of flexibility at work. When leadership’s commitment and respect for flexibility comes from a place of genuine caring for their people, this (unsurprisingly) influences a positive employee experience around flexibility — which impacts the way people perceive, commit to and perform for their organization.

“When it matters meaningfully to your people, it will always show up in your business outcomes.” - Adrian Young

📣 Learn more about the important work Werklabs is doing here.

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