Yahoo’s making workflex news again with its announcement today it’s beefing up paid maternity leave for men and women.

It’s heartening news from the tech company whose CEO Marissa Mayer came under fire recently for announcing a telecommuting ban.

As you can imagine, social media was all a twitter with Yahoo’s leave decision today with some employees seeing the move as further proof that working parents get special treatment when it comes to flexible work arrangements.

Here’s a tweet from @DickTracyOrlndo, who retweeted my tweet about Yahoo’s announcement:

Kidless people hosed again. MT @careerdiva: Yahoo expands maternity leave after banning telecommuting

The feeling of being hosed at work in this regard haunts not only employees but employers, who often wonder if these types of workflex programs can ever truly be seen as equitable. No good supervisors wants to be perceived as caring more about one group of employees than another. And no worker wants to think they’re not getting the same treatment as other works, especially if they work just as hard.

But creating an effective and flexible workplace doesn’t happen by divvying up equal pieces of the work pie for each employee. Employees are very different and so are circumstances of an employees personal life and even workload, and that can change monthly, weekly, even daily.

“The key to equity is you are addressing the needs of the people, not necessarily giving them equality,” explained Ken Matos, Families and Work Institute’s director of research. “We want to warn against getting into the debate of who’s getting what because then people with children and people without become enemies. It should be about what people need, period.”

Alas, that can be easier said than done.

Employees and employers can address this in different ways.

For employers, here are some tips from Workflex: The Essential Guide to Flexible and Effective Workplace, coauthored by Matos:

Be concerned about equity. Supervisors worry about being fair to employees when they know everyone can’t have flexibility. The key is making sure that the PROCESS is equitable (the same)—that every employee’s request is fairly considered—even though the
outcome may vary.

Promote flexibility as a management tool. When used as management tools, rather than favors given to specific employees, there are many more options available to employees and supervisors for getting the job done.

Create a format and process so that employees requesting workflex can make a “business case” to you. Employees requesting flexibility should state how this arrangement will help the organization and themselves. They should be prepared to come to a meeting with you with a series of suggested options for how their work will be done best and what business outcomes they believe will ensue because they are working flexibly. It is most helpful if you create a form to help employees think through and present this business case.

For employees, Matos stressed that “rather than frustration against someone getting materinity or partnerity leave, perhaps you should be asking your organization what you need. If telecommuting is not an option, are there other options that would get you through the day?”

He pointed to the many forms of workflex the Institute has identified that are included in a free downloadable toolkit for employees who want to know how to ask for flexible work arrangements.

Here’s an overview of the types of workflex available:

• Flex Time and Flex Place: adjustments to start and stop times and the ability to work in alternative locations (e.g., regular or short-notice schedule changes, compressed workweeks and telecommuting).
• Choices in Managing Time: influence employees have over work schedule and shift assignments (e.g., self-scheduling and shift trading initiated shift trades)
• Reduced Time: the ability to shift between full/part-time or part-year work while remaining in the same position (e.g., full-time during busy seasons and part-time the rest of the year)
• Time Off: includes easily accessed options for taking time for personal or family matters without incurring financial hardships or disciplinary action;
o paid days off for illness (personal or family members), vacation, volunteer work or community service and holidays
o job protected leaves for birth, adoption and care of seriously ill family members
• Flex Careers enable employees to control their career progression by adjusting workloads in collaboration with coworkers, time off for sabbaticals or education, and opportunities to phase into retirement or phase back into the workforce after an extended leave or military service.
• Task Flexibility includes efforts to create reasonable work demands, reasonable options for adjusting job descriptions to match employee strengths, reducing unnecessary work and creating boundaries between life on and off the job (e.g., reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, cross-training, options for discussing and managing overwork).
• Culture of Flexibility includes openly discussing alternative ways of working more effectively with supportive supervisors without fear of retaliation or having to choose between advancement and devoting attention to family life when work-life issues arise.

Creating workflex equity is possible, Matos maintained. But it’s important to rise above the finger pointing and, he added, “not turn this into a battle of who’s loved more.”

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