Bend and snap: Workplace flexibility in Utah
Photo by charlesdeluvio | Unsplash
It’s no secret that the pandemic revolutionized the workplace by forcing organizations to rethink operational strategy when the world was shutting down. Pivoting became the new norm for companies and their employees. Some organizations benefited from the abrupt changes through their ability to adapt. But for many Americans—women in particular—adapting to a new norm meant leaving the workplace altogether.
Between February 2020 and February 2021, a reported 2.4 million women over the age of 16 dropped out of the workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A survey by the Utah Women & Leadership Project found that approximately 15.9 percent of respondents withdrew from their workplaces during the pandemic by taking a leave of absence, moving from full-time to part-time work, or even leaving the workforce completely. The reasons for this mass exodus vary, but if it could be pinned down to one buzzword, it would likely be flexibility—or the lack thereof.
Now, companies are hard-pressed to bring women back to the workforce by making good on flexibility—and some Utah companies are well ahead of the curve.
Modeling core values
Jennica Christiansen had spent enough time working in financial services to know the cut-throat environment wasn’t one she wanted to stay in. Work-life balance was unheard of, and being a real person with a backstory and experiences outside of the workplace felt out of reach.
“It was like, ‘Oh, you’re a mom? We don’t care. You have demands outside of the office? We don’t care.’ I was looking for something that I felt could fit better in my life,” she says. Enter: CHG Healthcare.
Christiansen began working at CHG over a decade ago. Her first role was in compensation; she now serves as head of people operations. Christiansen was drawn to CHG because of its mission to make a difference in the lives of those it serves. Ten years later, she appreciates how that mission bleeds into the organization’s culture by making a difference in the lives of those who help it thrive.
“We have this saying, ‘Free to be me at CHG,’” Christiansen says. “I think, especially as a woman in the workplace, CHG has supported me in every phase of my life over the past 10 years. It makes it a place that you never want to leave.”
CHG, which has over 3,800 employees across 48 states, has long been celebrated for being a great company to work for. In January, the Inspire InUtah initiative recognized CHG as one of 100 Utah companies championing women through family-friendly policies and practices, such as fertility and adoption benefits, and its efforts surrounding pay equity.
Approximately 60 percent of CHG’s employee roster consists of women, and 53 percent of the company’s leadership roles are occupied by women. The company intentionally evolves its practices by going to the heart of the organization first: its people.
“We survey our people throughout the course of the year,” Christiansen says. “My teams will go through that survey and look for trends. Our goal is always that the programs we provide are flexible and meet our people’s needs no matter their stage of life.”
Communications specialist Liz Van Halsema says that, after eight years at CHG, she continues to be amazed by how she feels empowered as a woman to grow professionally and personally.
“CHG offers financial wellness classes to teach you about 401(k)s or savings and retirement in general,” Van Halsema says. “Growing up in North Carolina in the ‘90s, a lot of the women in my family didn’t talk about finances. I always saw it as something men learned. I went from knowing nothing about savings and retirement to geeking out about it and feeling empowered to be financially free and independent—and I can share [that knowledge] with my sisters.”
Photo courtesy of CHG Healthcare
Picking up where she left off
Flexibility in the workplace looks different for every employee and every company. Some organizations can afford to offer more in terms of benefits, but how much a company offers isn’t always the point. It’s the creative ways companies begin to think about meeting employees where they are that can make all the difference.
Sarah Taylor has enjoyed working in the performing arts as an employee of Ballet West since 2014. A year and a half ago, she transitioned from a director’s role in company and tour management for the regional ballet company to working as the director of business operations for the Fredrick Quinney Lawson Ballet West Academy.
“One of the reasons I moved over to the academy is I was really excited with the female leadership that was already in place,” Taylor says. “I just thought, when in your career do you get to work on a team of women?”
Women hold 12 of the 17 full-time positions at Ballet West Academy, where aspiring dancers and hobbyists receive ballet instruction at four locations across the state. Many of the main company’s current dancers—75 percent, to be exact—moved through the academy on some level. In Taylor’s downtown office, five staff members work tirelessly to keep operations running and ensure students have everything they need to pursue their talents. They are doing so in an environment recognized by Inspire InUtah as one of 100 companies championing women.
Ballet West Academy earned the accolade partly due to its workplace benefits, including flexible work schedules, remote work options, multiple campus locations and tuition offerings for full- and part-time employees. For Taylor, flexibility means more than what many have come to expect.
“A lot of times when we say flexibility, it’s too easy to say that means the ability to work from home or the ability to set a schedule,” Taylor says. “Although those are things that we always work with, in our industry, we do have set class times, and we do have set performance times. For me, flexibility is focused on cross-training—making sure that if you need to leave, the team behind you is empowered to take over and fill in those gaps.”
A mother of two young children, Taylor has experienced needing to leave work unexpectedly because of a sick child. She has also needed to bring her children to work with her to ensure the doors are open on time for students. But she also knows missing work isn’t always about sick kids or doctor appointments. Sometimes, it’s simply about being able to truly step away.
In the United States, Americans are notoriously bad at taking time away from work. A 2019 LinkedIn survey reported that 59 percent of workers said they checked in with their bosses while on vacation. In 2021, 82 percent of 1,000 respondents in a study conducted by MyPerfectResume reported working on vacation, with 37 percent of them saying the need to “stay on top of things” motivated them to do so. Female workers are reported to be 20 percent more likely to feel guilty about taking time away from work than their male coworkers.
"Flexibility is the ability for employees to work in the way that maximizes their alignment with the company’s needs and their own careers in a way that provides them with the greatest opportunities for personal satisfaction, career growth and even family. If I’m not allowing for flexibility that allows people to take care of [their] family in a way that serves [them]—and to get the greatest satisfaction from their career—then I’m going to lose them."
Allison DeBona with Peggy Bergmann Park City Campus Students. Photo by Logan Sorenson.
“One of our goals is to establish and set up times where people can truly take work off,” Taylor says. “For me, the big transition from Covid is that everything’s virtual. It’s very simple and easy to check-in. So, for women—and men—they’re trying to establish healthy balance. We have a generous vacation policy, but [we’re] actually encouraging people to take it.”
Taylor says as Ballet West Academy continues to evolve its cross-team collaborations, the anxiety that sometimes accompanies stepping away from work has lessened. “I can count about five times this year that one or the other of us has had to leave either for a kid scenario or a friend or had to do some elder care. It’s important to have a support team and a leadership team that works collaboratively enough that communication is happening across the board so someone can always step in for someone in a way that serves the organization and the employee.”
Allowing for the ebbs and flows of life
When Jonyce Bullock started interning at Squire and Company 24 years ago, she had no idea she would spend her entire accounting career at the company. Nor did she anticipate that in a little over two decades, she would become the first female CEO in the company’s history. “Flexibility has been the key from minute one,” Bullock says.
By the time she earned her degree, the CPA firm had offered Bullock a full-time position. Having recently become pregnant with her first child, Bullock worked full-time until her child was born and then switched to part-time. And full-time again, then part-time again. She went back and forth for years as her personal needs changed—and she felt entirely supported by Squire the whole time.
“The great thing is they were always investing in me—investing in my career,” Bullock says. “It might have been slower just because you need hours for experience, but overall, I wouldn’t say it slowed me down.”
Bullock navigated parenthood and working while also supporting her husband through the health issues he faced. At one point, they decided to make a switch: he would work part-time to help him more easily focus on his health while she would go full-time and focus on her career. “When we did that, my career kind of supercharged, but it’s been really nice because I think the flexibility’s been even greater,” Bullock says.
By 2018, Bullock became Squire’s first female managing partner, a title that changed to CEO six months later. Five years into the role, Bullock says the company is ever-evolving, but flexibility is always top of mind. “We really trust people to take care of things,” she says.
At Squire, consultants often make their own schedules—as long as they meet the looming deadline of April 15. “We let people come up with creative schedules and adapt to their family schedules,” Bullock says. Of course, no two roles in a company are identical, which means that some employees, such as assistants or receptionists, may need to be available during operating hours and can’t get too creative with their hours. In cases like this, Squire is open to ideas to help accommodate the needs of their employees, such as job sharing or working from home.
Fifty percent of Squire’s 200 employees are women. In a state constantly ranked as one of the worst for women’s equality—in 2022, Utah was named the worst in the nation—Squire is actively working to be a place where women rise. Its Women Improving Professionally (WIP) program earned them a spot on Inspire InUtah’s 100 Utah Companies Championing Women list.
The WIP program aims to provide Squire’s female employees with activities and programs that empower them to fulfill their professional ambitions. “It’s a group that’s run by mostly women,” Bullock says, “but we feel very strongly that men have to be involved as well. Several of our male partners and managers are on that committee.”
Squire also runs a sponsorship program where women are assigned a sponsor in the firm who speaks up for them when they’re not in the room. “When you look at it, we have 27 partners, and only three of us are female. Without having some specific, assigned sponsors in the room, an affinity bias would say you’re most likely going to sponsor people who look like you,” Bullock says. “Women just naturally get fewer opportunities. The sponsorship program has helped us get equal access to opportunities like that.”
Being flexible along the way—adapting to the curveballs and changes that life throws—only helps. Because in the never-ending quest to achieve work-life balance, being at a company that encourages balance can be a game-changer.
“Flexibility is the ability for employees to work in the way that maximizes their alignment with the company’s needs and their own careers in a way that provides them with the greatest opportunities for personal satisfaction, career growth and even family,” Bullock says. “If I’m not allowing for flexibility that allows people to take care of [their] family in a way that serves [them]—and to get the greatest satisfaction from their career—then I’m going to lose them.”