Changing the system of work


Even today, we still can experience shock and frustration when a high-profile female leaves a senior role.  As females we are told that we can and should pursue careers, follow our dreams and raise children in the current system of work.  A system of work that was created for men with partners at home to manage households.  It has been in existence for over 100 years, with some changes, but just dents really in the context of making it successful for today’s families.  We have seen many high-profile females quit their roles, most citing family reasons as the catalyst.  Let’s not ignore the many, non-high-profile folk, including myself who have made the decision to step away from careers when we have been at the pinnacle, after having built what we perceived as “futures” for 15-20 years.

“Having it all” is not really having it all.  Something always has to give.  The give often varies from family to family and individual to individual.  Combining work and parenting is exhausting, relentless and most of the time, sad as it is, we hurry and wish the years away in search of reprieve from the exhaustion and the very full calendars and schedules.  We seldom discuss the reality of working and parenting publicly as we post the most glorious 30 seconds (if that) of our day where there are smiles, beautiful meals and holiday snaps in our perfectly curated social media feeds.

In the current system of work, we are largely expected to work in structures and systems as if we don’t have kids or other commitments and responsibilities.  Hours in a senior role, hover at around 60 hours per week, with workloads spanning across the entire 24-hour period of a day, because now they can.  We are under an illusion that because we can negotiate to arrive later or leave earlier we have “flexibility”.  In theory we do.  In many workplaces we have adjusted the mindset of needing to be physically present for 38 hours per week, however waking at 5 am to get a couple of hours work in before the family wakes or logging back on at 9pm with a glass of red in hand has elongated the 8 hours per day into 18 hours.  It has made us more tired, irritable, overweight and disconnected from most things outside of work.  We work whenever we can grab a moment, whenever the laptop, tablet or phone is nearby, and whenever we have distracted loved ones for long enough, so we can punch out another few emails.

It therefore comes as no surprise to me when a female in a high-profile role quits.  The feeling of never having focus on one thing at a time, the guilt that permeates every single experience we have every day, because we got there late, we missed a personal or work milestone or we had to apologise for leaving early.  The feeling of never being enough for our partners, our kids, our work, and above all ourselves.

It is now up to us to change the system of work. It is up to us to work in a way that suits us.

How do we do this?

We can start by changing our current system of work.  Have an open dialogue with your employer about alternate work systems.  Changing hours, changing work locations, changing the type of work you do.  Changing the employer, you work for.   Trial a new system of work for a period.  It starts with each of us individually.

We can have a system of work where we are engaged to fulfil objectives of a role on our terms, in the hours and days we want, no questions asked.  Where sharing the same role with a colleague is as normal as having one person in the role.  Where if job sharing is a problem for your boss, it’s their issue to work through rather than yours. Where the working relationship consists of the objectives and outcomes of the job. Where useless, time-wasting activities that currently constitute so much of the working week are abolished and real work is done.

With so many needing to work differently now, we may be close to reaching a tipping point.  Where changing the system of work is no longer considered an employee benefit but a standard practice of work.

Some may look for the business benefits in changing the system of work.  With the increased rates of stress, mental health issues and burnout experienced and caused by work, the business benefit is apparent.  Changing how we work will enable employees to live healthier, more fulfilled lives and that will make a positive change to the statistics on mental health issues in workplaces and in the broader community.

If we really change the system of work, we will see a greater gender balance in senior roles across all industries, we will break down traditional stereotypes around main income earners and primary carers and we will provide our youth with a greater sense of purpose and hope for their futures.

About Rita Cincotta'

Rita Cincotta is Principal Consultant & Director at

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