Why working “Flexibly” didn’t work for me. And what I learnt


I have always been ambitious. It was my ambition that led me to the neon lights of Sydney. It was my ambition that fuelled the long days in the office. It was my ambition that challenged me to do more, be more, to climb the corporate ladder as quickly as I could.

And then, I had a baby. I suddenly went from being top of my game to a clueless newbie.

I learned to understand the world in a completely new way. Whatever you thought you knew about motherhood, goes out the window. For a short six months, I spent every moment of every day sleep deprived but treasuring time together with my baby. And, before I knew it, I was back at work.

I was excited. Excited to come back to adult conversation, excited to be back on the leadership ladder that I worked so hard to climb.

But, everything had changed. Whether I liked it, I was taken less seriously, I was less committed because I decided to work “flexibly.” Did I suddenly become a different person? Did my ambition take a jump out the window? No, what I realised was that my job conditions didn’t support my desire to be a mother.

Now that I have left my “flexible” role I realise what flexibility really is. Here is what I discovered.

Part time is not flexible.
When I went on maternity leave, they split my job between three people. When I came back, I was handed the same job I had been doing for years. It was a five days a week, long days in the office, senior management role. The KPIs of the job didn’t change. The expectations were that I deliver the same result as I have always done, the same as my full-time peers. But now I was getting paid 20% less because I chose to be in the office four days a week.

Flexibility is for everyone
So many companies use flexibility like a privilege for a chosen few. A right reserved for mothers. But what about the fathers? And on that note, what about the people who need to care for their ageing relatives, or need extra time to study, take care of their pets or what if they just want to work flexibly? Flexibility should be for everyone.

We all have things we are passionate about, committed too, responsible for. We are all wired differently. The very makeup of when we do our best work, for some it’s the morning, for others its later in the day. So why, do we try and squeeze everyone into the same 9-5 work day? Flexibility should not have bias.

Flexibility is redesigning the way you work
I now work for myself and truly understand what flexibility is. I design my work around my life to get the outcomes I need while honouring the life I chose. I am still fuelled by my ambition, but I get to do school drop offs, I volunteer for parent/ helper day, I sit on not-for- profit boards. I still pour my heart and soul into my business, while honouring the things that make me unique. I don’t work nine to five. I am often, at my computer late at night or early in the morning when my family is asleep. But that is what being truly flexible is. I have the ability to design how I work.

But not everyone has that luxury. Just because you chose flexibility doesn’t mean you take your work less seriously. It doesn’t mean you are less ambitious or not interested in leadership. Flexibility is a way of working. One that works for everyone, to achieve business objectives while honouring our personal lives.

Gig economy is defined as “a labour market characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work, as opposed to permanent jobs.”

Flexibility is the way of the future. By 2020, it is predicted that the rise in contingency workers will make up 40% of the global workforce. If a ‘gig economy’ is the way of the future. Then surely we must embrace flexibility now. The very nature of a gig economy means you will not be tied to one employer, but you will manage your career, through a series of freelance contracts.

If that is the future, then how will you make flexibility work for you now?

Phebe Cho is the founder of Accelus, a new voice in the workplace. She believes in the power of human potential. She works with organisations and individuals to share the future of work. Join the Accelus movement and get your free ebook, “How to have it all, Career, family and your sanity.”

Join us for our next Accelerator Breakfast, Friday 5th May at 7.15am at COMO the Treasury. We discuss how “Flexibility” works for you and showcase the story of Anna Dartnell, Mother, Wife, Business Leader, Board Chair, Non-Executive Director. If you currently work “flexibly” and want to share your story of how it can work for others, please contact Phebe Cho on phebe.cho@accelus.global