Malleable Living

type - big idea
Big Idea
category - society
category - workplace
sector - health & wellness
A flexible mindset isn’t just for work – it’s also for the home, family and everything in between, according to Annie Auerbach, author of new book Flex

Can you describe the principles outlined in Flex and why we need this attitude now?

Flex is about living and working on your own terms. The cultural urgency from the book comes from a number of different directions. First, our working culture is beset by presenteeism, which results in long working hours. Coupled with that, we are experiencing a productivity crisis – the UK has one of the worst levels of productivity in the G7 (source: Office for National Statistics). So despite all these bums on seats and longer working hours, we aren’t producing any more.

And it’s a way of working that is making us miserable…

Yes, the World Health Organization has prioritised workplace stress as something we all need to heed. This approach to work is also resulting in a culture of burnout. We’re living with outdated assumptions that imply presenteeism equals productivity, which we know is not true. The workplace is desperate for some kind of flexibility.

Who do you think needs the most flexibility in their lives?

Flexibility is for everybody – people coming into the workforce who have ambitions for portfolio careers, parents who want to see more of their kids, have caring responsibilities or who want to look after their mental health. There are a plethora of reasons to want flexibility.

I’ve aimed the book at women, however, because often it’s women who are the pioneers pushing for change, recreating templates and showing new paths forward. Family structures are also changing. We know that globally, women are working more, but they will also put in a second or third shift after work to run the home or look after elderly relatives or kids. I very deliberately wanted to focus Flex on the world of work, but I also wanted to look at it through the lens of the home and various other lenses as well because it is a deeper, more important idea than simply workplace flexibility. In the home, for example, we need to deliberately change the gendered assumptions of who does what, as at present it’s all on women’s shoulders and it’s holding them back.

Published by:

22 June 2020

Author: Miriam Rayman

Image: Desires of the Flesh by Cathrine Disney


The Wonder, New York City

Do you see brands playing a part in our more flexible future?

Yes, by holding a mirror up to changing society. When brands reflect the messier edges of work and life, that has an impact. So we change from depicting people working for the weekends to depicting a view that the way we work has changed. In turn, a more empathetic way of reflecting our lives back to us will be recognised.

Men’s flexibility will also be talked about and will become more urgent. Brands can help destigmatise men working flexibly, men taking up shared parental leave and being more present fathers by reflecting this back to society. But then there are the deeper tensions around how men don’t take up flexible working or shared parental leave because they think it would compromise their success at work. What we need are more stories around flexible working being a jet propeller for your career.


What will Flex mean for the future of work?

The rise of digital living and automation has given us lots of new tools and ways of working, so we need to think consciously and intentionally about how we will work. We will also need services that help us to be more intentional about career pivoting. There’s an acknowledgment that jobs for life will be very rare. So how can we translate the skills we have into different industries? How can we embrace life-long learning rather than front-loading it, as we do now, at the start of our careers?

With the World Economic Forum naming creativity as one of the top three skills that we’ll need in the future, we must focus on the skills that are key to our humanity and not on those that make us more like machines. We need to get out of our echo chambers, stop sitting in front of screens all day, exchange ideas together and be empathetic to those that don’t fit in with our view. Our current working culture is set against this.

‘We need to think consciously about how we will work tomorrow, with services that help us to be more intentional about career pivoting’
Annie Auerbach, author of new book Flex

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