How Men and Women Use Flexible Work Policies
12:30 pm, July 22nd | by Grace Rasmus
A flexible work policy is an integral part of maintaining a balance between work and life; employees often cite work flexibility as one of the most important factors in choosing a job. This discussion often focuses on women (especially mothers) and how they negotiate for and optimize their flexibility, but a new survey by Catalyst shows that men also work flexibly throughout their careers, just in different ways.
Catalyst surveyed 726 male and female MBA graduates who work full-time in different industries, both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. When asked about their experience with flexible work arrangements, 81 percent said their employer offers some, including telecommuting, flex time (when work is completed flexibly across the week), flexible arrival and departure times, compressed work weeks, job sharing, and reduced schedules. Half of the people surveyed said flexibility was very or extremely important to them.
According to Catalyst, men and women did not differ significantly in their use of flex time, flexible arrival and departure time, job sharing, and compressed workweeks. However, there was a large discrepancy in who was more likely to opt for telecommuting: 29 percent of men telecommuted versus 39 percent of women. Men were almost twice as likely to say they had never telecommuted during their careers. Instead, flexible arrival and departure time was the men’s favored option (64%), followed by flex time (30%).
While the report makes no attempt to explain the telecommuting gender gap, I presume that men don’t opt for telecommuting because they don’t need to: if women are working from home or not working at all, that leaves their husbands free to go into the office. These men may know that time away from the office leads to career penalties; Catalyst notes that telecommuting leads to the unintended consequence of less face-time with colleagues, sponsors, and leaders, potentially hindering a person’s career advancement. As The Atlantic points out, a Human Relations study of hundreds of workers found that managers make inferences that the people they see in the office during normal business hours are “responsible” and “dependable.” Furthermore, those who the boss sees arriving early, staying late, or coming in on weekends are judged “committed” and “dedicated.” The authors of that study maintain that the boss’ line of reasoning may be subconscious and unintentional, but it nevertheless impacts career advancement.
Catalyst asks managers to assess whether remote workers advance less quickly than others in the organization and, if so, to increase their visibility, thereby leveling the playing field. The authors of the Human Relations study, Kimberly Elsbach and Daniel Cable, add that supervisors should avoid using perceptions of traits like “commitment” and “dependability” in performance evaluations and promotion decisions, replacing them with measurable outputs such as the number and type of projects completed and/or with expert evaluations of a project’s quality. To level the playing field in this way would be a step in the right direction so more men and women can feel comfortable telecommuting without fear that their careers will suffer.