Illustration: Sam Kerr For Bloomberg Businessweek

A Pioneer of Flexible Work Schedules Makes Them Actually Work

(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- If you want to know who’s fixing the workplace for ambitious women, look no further than Anna Auerbach of Werk Enterprises Inc. The company, which she co-founded in February 2016, seeks to reinvent the workday by helping businesses create executive-track jobs with flexible formats, including the ability to work part time or remotely or to not have to travel. “I couldn’t quite understand why there were so few women in leadership,” she says. “It’s so obvious and in your face.”

Part of the problem is that companies spend billions on things that don’t actually solve problems for people, Auerbach argues. “They’ve rethought everything—furniture layouts, communication, branding—but not about why the workday is thought of as 9-to-6.” She says employees typically need flexibility for one of three reasons: caretaking commitments, disabilities, and productivity habits (such as being a night owl). Werk’s two products are FlexMatch, a survey for employees that helps companies figure out needs, and FlexCert, an online training for human resources staff and managers on the nuts-and-bolts of language and practice.

“Often, individuals don’t understand their own needs well enough to articulate them,” says Kim Williams, senior director for employee experience and corporate affairs at Credigy Solutions Inc. “We already had a flexibility policy saying to just let us know [about scheduling issues], and we’ll do our best to meet those needs. But we still had a gap in what employees felt they had access to.” Williams took the FlexCert training in October and recently collected the FlexMatch survey results, which the company is incorporating into long-term planning.

Auerbach, who came to the U.S. as a 6-year-old from the Soviet Union with the help of a charity organization, has always wanted to create opportunities for others. After attending Harvard Business School, she worked for a time at McKinsey & Co. Werk began shortly after Auerbach returned to work following the birth of her now 5-year-old son. She found the job market awash with semiflexible jobs for hourly employees, such as call center representatives and part-time assistants, but not the director-level positions she was seeking. She met Annie Dean, a real estate lawyer working 16-hour days and raising a special-needs son. Together they created Werk, initially as a job board aimed at women nationwide about to quit something because of workplace inflexibility. “We wanted to save each and every one of those women from making a decision they don’t want to make,” Auerbach says.

Theirs is still the only major job board that’s searchable by flex options, but it became clear Werk needed to address the problem from the other side. It’s since helped 225 organizations. “Companies say they have flexibility, people say they want it,” Auerbach says. “And yet nobody’s getting access to it.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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