Recently I went to a Parents’ Evening where I learnt (among other things) that my child is soon to read Macbeth. Macbeth’s fatal flaw is ‘vaulting ambition’ which leads him to make some very bad – and bloody – decisions on his way to the top of the tree. (When he gets there he finds the whole wood is moving – a scenario probably familiar to some real-life Chief Executives – but they often get to manage the consequences in less doom-laden ways …)
So Macbeth has something to say about career progression and work-life balance: it can be seen as the ultimate cautionary tale of the costs of getting to the top – it has plenty to say about the influence of spouses, for sure. And it has some great language to lend to corporate malaise: ever felt ‘cabined, cribbed confined’ in the office 9-5? This is the play for you.
I blogged before about the way in which flexible working could operate differently for men and women, with men informally meeting family commitments ‘irregularly regularly’, whilst women often negotiate upfront for the conditions they need to make both work and care practical. Indeed, I was able to go to that Parents’ Evening because husband had ‘left a bit early’ to take care of our other child.
There is evidence that part-time work still raises issues for ambitious people – and that gender still features in this equation. Some retain a view that anything less than full-time hours signals lack of commitment; and those who reduce their hours may fear that this might hamper promotion prospects. These factors seem to have figured in a recent discrimination case where a man successfully argued that a rejection of request to go part-time amounted to discrimination, as women had been granted this option. Flexible arrangements should be available to both men and women, without ruling out the possibility of advancement. Otherwise we will remain in a situation on workplace inequality, where, to quote Macbeth again, ‘we have scotched the snake not killed it’.
The formal aspects of flexibility do matter – employees must be seen to work flexibly in order for it to satisfy both career ambition and life satisfaction. I’ve talked about Macbeth all through this blog – only the superstitious would keep referring to it as ‘the Scottish play’. Keeping flexible working hidden under informal terms would be a proper tragedy.