Addressing The Flex Time Stigma

January 22, 2019

More and more firms now allow professional staff members to opt for flex time: work from home days or staggered hours that allow workers to care for family members, so they can attend children’s school or sporting events, for example. Sure, the option exists, but there’s almost always a hidden penalty for taking advantage of it. Joan C. Williams, founding director of the Center for Work-Life Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, calls it “flexibility stigma,” and it applies to women much more often than men.

We once knew an extremely competent, hard-working corporate attorney who described leaving work at 6:00 PM as “the walk of shame.” “No one wants to be the first to leave, even after a 10-hour day,” she says. “I hated feeling like a slacker because I wanted to be home in time to have dinner with my young sons.” She eventually left to start her own firm where she employs several female attorneys and offers both part-time and flex-time hours.

Joan C. Williams says that women who try to carve out time for family tend to be perceived as less competent and less dedicated to their careers.  Since caregiving is considered a traditionally feminine role, men who ask for flex time my face even more stigma.

A series of studies published in 2013 found that men and women who took time extra after the birth of a child were offered less prestigious assignments and were less likely to be promoted or receive raises. In 2000, the female workforce participation rate peaked at 60.7 percent. By 2015, it had fallen to 57.2 percent. When women are penalized for (or not given options for) flexible or part-time work, they often elect to stay at home full time.

Millennial employees who have come of age in a 24-hour connected world often overlook the value of in-person interactions, unlike their older peers. They’re much more likely to see flex time as a standard instead of a privilege. Managers and HR departments need to step in and get serious about promoting flex time to help remove any perceived stigma about work-life balance.  Start by considering these three critical flex time tips.

  1. Align rewards with outputs, not inputs. Make sure everyone has clear standards of performance and productivity goals. As long as a team member is meeting the standards of say 10 customer resolution calls per day or 5 appointments confirmed, he or she can leave the office. If performance or productivity standards are not being met, flex privileges should be revoked.
  2. Make sure managers manage results, not processes. Train managers to monitor progress instead of spending time monitoring behavior. You may find that some command-and-control types just can’t adapt, so you may need to make some changes.
  3. Legitimize flexible schedules and squash stereotyping and sniping early. Write flexibility into your official policy and your list of benefits and perks. Make sure your written policy contains clear standards for communication with the office and responsiveness. Don’t forget to provide clear guidelines to managers in case they need to revise arrangements that aren’t working.

Forty percent of workers say that flexible schedules are a valuable perk, and 22 percent say it’s the most important perk for them. So what flex time benefits are currently available to you? In this very tight talent market, we advise companies to revisit their flex time policies and make improvements according to evolving employee needs.


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