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Workplace Flexibility Is a Problem For Everyone, New Report Suggests

3 minute read

The conversation around workplace flexibility largely revolves around how many workplaces are not accommodating for new mothers who need to spend time with their infants. While this is obviously a problem that needs addressed, a new study shows that workplace flexibility is actually problematic for everyone when it comes to family life.

Young people having good time together in park on river and taking selfie-4

According to the study, led by Lindsey Trimble O’Connor from California State University and Erin A. Cech from the University of Michigan, work-life balance issues are not just for women. In fact, men and individuals without children can suffer immensely if they do not have proper support when it comes to friend and family life.

“When employees think their careers will suffer if they take time away from work for family or personal reasons, they have lower work satisfaction and experience more work-life spillover. In addition, they are more likely to intend to leave their jobs,” the team said, according to the University of Michigan.

The study sought to examine the ‘ideal worker-norm,’ a type of persona that businesses believe exists where a worker is solely focused on their job task, are available to work full-time - all of the time - and pay little attention to - or have little distractions from - their home and personal lives.

This type of ‘norm’ can be seen as an ideal persona for an employer, but does it exist? Can a person really exist is some sort of vacuum that is devoid of familial and social circles that may impact job performance? The team set out to find out.

To do so, the team gathered a a group of participants to test workplace flexibility bias.

Businessman working on laptop in the office

“Researchers tested workplace flexibility bias using a nationally representative sample of more than 2,700 employed people (half were men). They answered questions about job satisfaction, engagement, job-to-home spillover, home-to-job spillover and turnover intentions,” reports the University of Michigan.

The team also had these individuals report how they felt about asking for time off at their workplace to handle family matters and how likely they would be to ‘get ahead’ in their careers by taking time off for these issues. Unsurprisingly, 40 percent of the participants felt that they would not get ahead in their career if they took more time off.

The interesting thing is that this means that the flexibility issue isn’t just impacted women. Instead, it’s impacting the entire workplace as a whole, crossing gender lines.

“People typically think only women and moms experience work-family issues, and need flexible work arrangements, like telecommuting, part-time work or job sharing. Society believes it's women who bear the brunt of unfriendly work cultures, when it actually impacts all genders,” said O’Connor.

But what are these negative effects that come along with this type of thinking? Well, according to the team, workers feel less satisfaction in their role when they know that the company isn’t willing to let them take the time off they need or that they feel like the company doesn’t care about their work-life balance.

This means, for companies, that they will have unhappy workers on their hands who may jump ship and take new roles elsewhere that does support family and social life, which makes a lot of sense because workers, on average, give 40 hours per week to their employer. That’s a lot of time to work for someone to not have them care about them.

business people  team  at a meeting in a light and modern office environment.-1-6

“This flexibility bias leaves workers with little control over their schedule, feeling unsupported by their companies or unhappy knowing that their company might be discriminating against those balancing work with personal responsibilities,” the team said.

The takeaway of this study is that every employee suffers when an organization decides to not value work-life balance. If an employee feels like the organization doesn’t care about their lives, they will become unhappy and likely move on, possibly creating a bunch of costly turnover.

The team recommends that organizations switch their focus. If an organization has a culture that is supportive of family life and is willing to be more flexible to those who need to support their families, they will have a happier staff and one that they can retain long into the future. In other words, the ‘ideal worker norm’ needs to be on its way out.

The team’s study has been recently published in the journal Sociological Perspectives. Read it here.

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