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  • Ali H.

Meaningful change at the team level – How can we remove the gendered ideal worker norms.




As early as 1926, Henry Ford was keen to set out the 40-hour working week, and by 1932 the USA had officially adopted the 5-day working system. In the UK, at a similar time, a factory opened that was so productive it was challenged by producing too much stock, which in turn risked people’s jobs. The solution was to close on a Saturday and Sunday. Now there were clearly positives at the time; the two days of leisure time enabled teams to recover from the intensity of the week, spend time with their family, and were more productive for Mondays. It was a system of win-win.


Now fast forward to today’s working cultures, our landscape is quite different – yet we have retained our 40 hour working weeks. The advancement in work and technology means we are capable of more and a lot faster, yet we are challenged with work intensification. The opportunity to work at any point comes with both pros and cons of detachment. Furthermore, we’re faced with workplaces that are organised around the gendered ‘ideal work norm’, which reinforces; perceived busyness, bum on seat, responsiveness to unexpected work, and expected long hours. Now, although there have been steps in the right direction, because of differences in family, work and cultural differences – primary caregivers are much less likely to follow full-time continuous employment. As such, they are less likely to live up to these ‘ideal worker norms’ – and let’s be super clear, the ‘ideal worker norm’ is out of date, and still present in many organisations, which subtly and continuously advantage those who are non-primary caregivers.


Hybrid was the shift that people were crying out for, the premise of a bit more freedom and trust, as well as driving meaningful organisational change to tackle some deep-rooted issues. Now don’t get me wrong, there have been some brilliant examples of this done well. Equally, some have favoured a return to Mr Fords model of bum on seat busyness.


For many of us, it is unlikely that we will sit at the exec level with enough creative freedom to drive meaningful change across an entire organisation. Yet that doesn’t mean we can’t work to make a difference, we just need to get a little more creative with how we approach it!


Now, we’re not looking to focus on individual fixes here. Instead, we are simply trying to progress with a smart business move. Our aim is that work becomes equally beneficial to our life. There are some promising positive results with output-focused work environments with work-life conflict, turnover, and health behaviours.


Don’t take my word for it; look into ideal worker norms for yourself – think about the culture you want to create for your team. Here's some things to start thinking about.


  • Focus on key results, not face time or the number of hours worked.

  • Open up more control over when and where teams work. Non-traditional schedules can have huge benefits to teams wellbeing.

  • Look at the language your team use with each other, “just getting in?” – we’re looking to remove language that enforces old, gendered norms.

  • Establish more clear measures of performance. Remember, your focus is on the collective outputs, so these need to be super clear.

  • If you’re in a progressive organisation, think about those hours – are you driving a culture of time commitment or outputs from your teams.

  • Secure commitment with your team, how do you want to work and communicate – what are the essentials.


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