In Praise of Flexible Workplace Cultures

Last week, I wrote about work-family culture, and the questions The Families and Work Institute uses to assess this part of organizational culture.  I hope you enjoyed it (and I can wait for you here if you want to refer back.  Ok, ready?).  Now, here are the Families and Work Institute’s measures for general autonomy and flexibility:

  1. I have the freedom to decide what I do on my job
  2. It is basically my own responsibility to decide how my job gets done
  3. I have a lot of say about what happens on my job
  4. How easy is it for you to take time off during your workday to take care of personal or family matters (I reworded this item to keep the response scale consistent)

Now, let’s think about these, in comparison to the work-family questions from the prior post

While “work-family” support is critically important, I think (and have found in my own research) that general support for flexibility and autonomy (as reflected in these items) is just as effective for helping fathers deal with work-family concerns as “work-family” culture (and I say this as an advocate for more “family-supportive” workplaces)

My research also suggests that because an overall workplace approach towards general flexibility is NOT specific to work-family, it lessens the resistance “old-school” managers and cultures may have for “soft stuff” issues.  General flexibility is less likely to be seen as a “mommy track women’s issue” as opposed to a serious issue that affects us all- men and women alike.

In short, generally flexible employers give working parents (and especially dads, who feel pressures against availing themselves to parental leave and other “visible” work-family accommodations) the flexibility they need to better balance work and family.  And because general flexibility doesn’t sound like a “mommy” issue, such support, for many fathers, is often easier to ask for, and to come by.  Future posts will focus on how to negotiate for additional workplace flexibility, so stay tuned.

So, how do you feel about the flexibility you have at work?  How does your employer stack up?  Let’s discuss in the comments section.

8 thoughts on “In Praise of Flexible Workplace Cultures

  1. I can tell you that in the 15 years I spent in the foodservice industry, flexibility was not an option. You either showed up and worked your shift or you were sent home, usually permanently. I actually had one executive chef tell me after I requested my EARNED vacation time to visit family back in NY,” I haven’t seen my family in Philly in I don’t know how long, what makes you think I care if you see yours?”
    I don’t know how many times guys got hurt on the job, left to see a doctor and were back to work the next day with broken fingers or stitches, requesting any time off for ANY reason was considered a sign of weakness as an employee. A kitchen is alot like a highschool football team locker room, weakness is not tolerated. I don’t miss the hours. I don’t miss the stress or lousy pay. About the only thing I do miss is the access to foods ordinary, average consumers probably have never seen before, let alone cooked and consumed.

  2. My situation may be a little different than the average desk job thing, because I work at a nonprofit service agency directly with clients. My agency does do a great job of being flexible but we also have certain needs that aren’t so conducive to family. They ask that all full time employees work two evenings per week so that clients who have school/work can come in at times convienient to them. We get lots of paid time off but need to be somewhat mindful how we use it because if I’m not there at a certain time it means someone might be missing their weekly appointment with me and it may not be able to be rescheduled. One thing they did that was cool was bend the rule of the waiting period for being able to use paid time off. I took the job two months before my son was due so technically I wasn’t eligible to use vacation time yet but they let me have some time off after the birth.

  3. Scott,

    I’ve been in conversations with my boss at one of the “Best 100 Companies to work for” where he spoke about a colleague sarcastically as a “good father” and “baseball coach”, and implied “undedicated employee.” Generally, I’ve seen men at the Director level and above feel that they’ve sacrificed their time with their families, and they expect at least the same of their employees.

    For a flexible corporate job, you really need to have an individual contributor specialist role: sales, graphics design, programmer, etc. Otherwise, it is very difficult to get ahead in corporate America within a management path, while maintaining a work/life balance. There is a constant game of “Survivor” being played everyday. If you’re home, you’re not in the game, and others are playing for you. Working in the pharma space, you see a lot of this when people move from sales roles to corporate marketing.

    Employees that make this transition often have a very difficult time. They move from a role with total flexibility to a role where every hour is occupied with meetings. They also have a tough time adjusting their families to this significant transition. Oftentimes they hear that the company has a supportive culture while they are being recruited to these home office roles. Yet they never realized that they were actually moving to a Shark Tank with 30 something MBAs clamoring for their next promotion.

    You can’t compete with a single person willing to dedicate all of their time to their job unless you’re willing to sacrifice time with your family. It’s really a zero sum game. You only have so much time, and corporate managers only have so many people they can support. They tend to support those that join them on the road, those that walk with them from meeting to meeting, and those that help them cram for presentations in their office at 7 or 8pm. These are the “Go To” people. No Corporate Work/Life initiative can overcome this reality.

    This summer was my first summer as an entrepreneur in my career. Despite some business travel, I’ve been able to coach my daughter’s soccer and basketball teams and make it to all of her swim meets. This has really been the best summer of my life.

    My advice for those with selling skills is to make a career in a sales role and enjoy the flexibility. For those that would rather be individual skill contributors, you’ll have the greatest options for work/life options in Corporate America, but don’t plan on getting promoted. Also, you’re not too far from getting outsourced, so be careful.

    However, if you want to pursue a management path and maintain a work/life balance at the same time, you really need to be your own boss. That’s the only boss you can really trust.

    • Hi Brian- Thanks again for an excellent comment. I will be in touch with you soon- I have some drafts of articles about the trade-offs between high-flying careers and time for family and would love to run them by you for your advance feedback.

      No doubt that those trying for top management positions have to sacrifice a lot- too much for my tatse (hence my decision to enter academia).

      All of the comments so far underscores how different everyone’s situations are- so much of managing work and family is situationally dependent. i’ll try to capture a fuller range of situations as time goes on.

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