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Helen Whait
Helen Whait

If you read job ads, you'll come across claims of flexibility everywhere. Companies proudly boast about their commitment to "work-life balance" and promote their family-friendly policies. But is this newfound flexibility truly meaningful, or is it just a façade?

Sure, it's a positive step forward to acknowledge that women need flexibility in the workplace. However, mere acknowledgment alone falls short of addressing the real issues at hand.

Let's talk about 'fake flexibility,' a term that accurately describes a prevalent phenomenon in today's workplaces. It's when a role is supposedly reduced to part-time hours, creating the illusion of flexibility, while the workload remains unchanged. In essence, it's a sleight of hand.

And it goes beyond that. It's when promises are made, assuring employees they can attend important family events like a school assembly, only to see their email inboxes fill up with urgent requests and expectations that overshadow their personal commitments.

Even in cases where professionals are granted flexible hours, they often find themselves burdened with never-ending paperwork that must be done at home to compensate for the time gained during their flexible work arrangements. It's a paradox that undermines the true essence of flexibility.

At my company, ActivOT, we have witnessed the profound impact of genuine, true flexibility. However, we had to disrupt the occupational therapy sector to make it a reality.

Here’s the backstory: In 2012, I founded ActivOT, Australia's first and only occupational therapy franchise business. It was a bold move, as franchising in allied health was virtually unheard of.

However, I believed wholeheartedly that if we could support more occupational therapists to be business owners rather than employees, we could change the industry and bring genuine flexibility to the forefront.

At ActivOT, we have witnessed the transformative power of this approach. More than 55 occupational therapists, therapy assistants and physiotherapists have now transitioned with us from employees to business owners, unlocking a newfound sense of control over their professional lives.

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The reduction in stress and burnout has not only improved their own well-being but also translated into better outcomes for the clients they serve.

Here's how we achieved genuine flexibility at ActivOT, and how you can do the same:

Challenge the status quo

We recognised the limitations of the traditional occupational therapy model and dared to disrupt the sector. By embracing a franchise model and supporting occupational therapists to become business owners, we revolutionised the industry and paved the way for genuine flexibility.

Rebuild systems to deliver flexibility

We don’t operate as other franchises do. Instead, we’re a ‘co-operative’ of therapists, including occupational therapists, therapy assistants and physiotherapists, who pool resources and support so that everyone involved can succeed.

This collaborative model is unique in franchising. It’s built on the principle that we’re all better off when we work together.

While our franchisees benefit from a range of business systems that many franchises typically offer, ActivOT franchisees do not operate as competitors or within set geographical boundaries. Most people are shocked to find out we don’t operate with territories.

So, how does it work? A central management team aims to match up the best fit between franchisee areas of expertise with each client’s needs. Franchisees collaborate to provide the best service delivery for clients and step in to cover each other as needed.

It’s a system that’s built on trust, respect and mutual benefit– which is how it should be.

We have each other's backs

It's not about merely reducing hours or adjusting schedules; it's about fostering a supportive network where colleagues have each other's backs. When one occupational therapist needs to take leave or is unable to work due to illness, their caseload is covered by other local occupational therapists– with the understanding that what comes around, goes around.

The original therapist retains the client, and when they return, the client is passed back to them. This system eliminates the fear of client poaching and promotes collaboration among colleagues.

This collaborative support system is the foundation of our approach and allows therapists to take leave or attend important family events without the fear of work piling up. This massively reduces overwhelm and promotes a healthier work-life balance.

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Remove competition and recruit based on values

We work with occupational therapists who not only possess the necessary skills and expertise but also align with our core values of support and collaboration.

By recruiting based on these values, we have fostered a culture where colleagues genuinely care for and support each other.

Move beyond buzzwords and lip service

If you want to give your people genuine flexibility, you have to get real. Genuine flexibility is not just a buzzword or a fleeting trend. It requires a sincere and committed effort to create a work environment that truly supports the well-being and work-life balance of individuals.

Getting real means going beyond surface-level gestures or empty promises. It means taking concrete actions to address the obstacles and challenges that prevent true flexibility from becoming a reality. It requires a shift in mindset and a willingness to challenge traditional norms.

Flexibility looks different for everyone

We also recognise that success looks different for each occupational therapist. We provide personalised support and guidance, helping them achieve their own goals within their businesses.

Our business planning sessions go beyond just focusing on the business itself; we take a holistic approach, considering the therapist's whole life and aligning their business goals with their personal aspirations.

Acknowledge work-life balance is not a luxury

This shouldn’t be controversial but it still needs to be reiterated: work-life balance is not a luxury. It is a fundamental right and a necessity for the well-being of individuals and the sustainability of workplaces.

We can't expect our allied health professionals, like occupational therapists, to deliver quality care if they are constantly overwhelmed and burnt out.

Efficient administrative processes

Administrative tasks can be time-consuming and take away valuable time from delivering quality care. At ActivOT, we leverage technology and streamlined processes to minimise paperwork and administrative burden.

By optimising administrative efficiency, our therapists can focus more on what matters most– providing exceptional care to their clients.

Business planning with a whole life focus

Rather than setting rigid KPIs, we engage in regular business planning sessions to ensure alignment with our values and goals. We consider the occupational therapist's whole life (we’re a holistic profession after all!), recognising that their work is an extension of who they are as individuals.

This holistic approach allows for a meaningful integration of work and personal commitments, eliminating the guilt and fostering a sense of fulfillment.

These are just a few examples of how we at ActivOT are genuinely implementing flexibility for our occupational therapists.

And you can do the same! It is crucial that we take a stand against 'fake flexibility' and actively work towards real change.

The experiences of working women, including occupational therapists, deserve more than empty promises and surface-level gestures.

Helen Whait is an award-winning occupational therapist, an innovator and the founder of ActivOT, Australia’s first occupational therapy franchise which helps occupational therapists become successful business owners.



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