Workplace flexibility can come at a cost to the employee

Despite the many advantages, flexitime can exact a toll on women even more than men

Two recent studies suggest flexitime programmes may be costly to the people who enrol in them, especially women.

Two recent studies suggest flexitime programmes may be costly to the people who enrol in them, especially women.

 

Offering flexible workplace schedules seems like a no-brainer. Work has become more flexible – tied less to specific times and places – and gender roles have changed. Letting employees shift their hours to accommodate hectic life schedules makes sense.

Surveys show that flexitime ranks high on the list of benefits employees want and that women value it even more than men do.

But two recent studies suggest flexitime programmes may be costly to the people who enrol in them, especially women. And the penalty begins before any scheduling adjustments are made.

In a recent study by Furman University’s Christin Munsch, the reactions that men and women receive when requesting flexible work requests were quite different – and quite favourable to men.

Munsch studied more than 600 working-age individuals, all from the United States. Participants were shown a transcript of what they believed was a real conversation between an employee and a human resource representative.

Unknown to the participants, Munsch had modified the transcript in a few ways. In some versions, the employee asked for a flexible schedule, working three days a week in the office and two from home while also coming in late or leaving early on office days. In others, no flexible work request was made.

More important, Munsch modified the transcript to change the gender of the employee and the reason for the request (some versions were a request because of childcare, others were specifically non-family reasons).

Dependability and dedication

All participants were asked to evaluate the employee based on likability, dependability and dedication to the job, as well as how likely they would be to accommodate the employee’s request.

In comparing the different transcripts and the reactions they elicited, Munsch found that when male employees requested flexible schedules to accommodate childcare requests, almost 70 per cent of participants were either likely or very likely to grant the request. When female employees made the same request, that number dropped to about 57 per cent. In addition, participants were much more likely to evaluate the men as likable and committed than the women.

In terms of flexible scheduling, Munsch believes her results should give employers caution.

“In an arrangement where both partners contribute equally at home and in terms of paid labour – men, but not women, would reap workplace advantages,” Munsch said. “A move toward gender equality at home would perpetuate gender inequality in the workplace.”

This study might paint a grim picture for the future of work-life balance and gender equality. But it should not be seen as a justification for eliminating flexible work arrangements. If these programmes aren’t producing the results they’re designed for, the logical step is to look at what adjustments to the design need to be made to eliminate the perceptions and biases that come along with the programmes. – (Copyright Harvard Business Review 2017)

David Burkus is the author of Under New Management. He is an associate professor of management at Oral Roberts University

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.