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Using flexible stereotypes could harm your reputation

Uproar over a recent car promotion highlights why brands need to evolve their understanding of what flexible working means in 2019.

flexible stereotypes could harm reputation

By Emma Stewart, CEO, Timewise

There’s a prevailing view that all publicity is good publicity. But in the case of the recent Fiat / Elle collaboration, I’m not sure that’s true.

The latest spot in their joint content series, called ‘A modern woman’s guide to…’ features Elle’s digital editor on a video call in her car, telling colleagues she’s at a pitch. She then takes off her smart coat to reveal a football kit, and steps out of the car to join the game.

Now, I’m sure the creative team behind the film saw it as a tongue-in-cheek, lighthearted bit of fun, with a celebration of women’s football thrown in. But as the subsequent backlash highlighted, it’s based on an out-of-date attitude towards flexible working that isn’t great for the organisations’ brand reputation.

The fact is, in 2019, people shouldn’t have to lie about working flexibly. The law is on their side; all employees have had the right to request flexible working arrangements since 2014. And with flexible working frequently cited as a solution to workplace issues such as the gender pay gap and employee well-being, the zeitgeist is going their way too.

What’s more, as this year’s Power 50 winners showed, there are a growing number of examples of people who are openly, and proudly, working flexibly for a huge range of reasons. None of them need to pretend to be working when they’re pursuing their family commitments or side hustles. They just get on and deliver.

But by implying that flexible workers are skivers, the film took us back to a time when, for example, managers worried that letting people work from home would mean they spent the day watching TV or doing the washing.  And in doing so, it alienated the very people it was trying to appeal to.

Comments on social media, responding to campaigner Mother Pukka’s critique of the film, included: “It’s ill-judged and deeply offensive to those who are fortunate enough to work flexibly, and sends the wrong message to those who are anti flexible working.”

We know from our research that 91% of women, and 92% of millennials, either work flexibly already or wish they could. So these groups are unlikely to be impressed by the approach this film is taking, and the implied lack of understanding of the issues they face. And they’re likely to think worse, not better, of the companies involved as a result.

However, if we turn all this on its head, there’s an opportunity here for employers to grab. Design properly flexible jobs that deliver for your employees and your organisation. Be proactive, positive and open about your commitment to flexible working and flexible hiring. And showcase examples of people working flexibly and delivering the same, or better, outcomes.

By doing so, you’ll signal to current and potential employees, clients and customers that you understand what matters to them; well-being, work-life balance and workplace equality. If you’re not sure where to start, we’d love to help; do get in touch.

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