Flexible work arrangements need work, survey finds

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Mothers have a lot to consider when choosing where — or even if — to work. The commute, length of the  workday, quality of health insurance, amount of paid time off and cost of child care are just a few of things that factor into a working mother’s ability to create a healthy balance between work life and  family life. And since 71 percent of all mothers with children under 18 are part of the  work force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, companies are finding themselves with an increasing responsibility to cater to this population.

One of the most popular choices that has emerged for working mothers is the “flexible schedule,” which allows for options like telecommuting, paid leave and adjustable hours. In fact, according to a recent study by Bain & Co., a management consulting company, 87 percent of women surveyed said that they’d be interested in using flexible work options.

The survey also found that providing such arrangements seems to be one of the best ways to increase employee satisfaction and retention for both sexes — an effective flexible-scheduling program can improve retention by up to 40 percent among women and 25 percent among men.

Strangely enough, however, while such programs are  desired by workers and beneficial for their employers; most companies that allow wiggle room in their employees’ schedules report that workers aren’t taking advantage of the flexibility.

According to the Bain survey, of the 60 percent of companies that offer flexible scheduling, only 17 percent report that it is widely used at their company. Additionally, only 44 percent of women and 21 percent of men said they’d made use of flexible scheduling – a testament not to disinterest in the programs, but the need to further develop existing programs.

Julie Coffman, an author of the study, says that companies need to start offering customized options to their employees looking for flexibility. “Despite the fact that flex models are one of the hottest recruiting and retention tools, they aren’t sufficiently used at many organizations. Companies can no longer get away with just offering cookie-cutter options; they must tailor them to their employees and also provide adequate levels of support and resources to ensure better cultural acceptance,” Coffman said in a statement.

Cultural acceptance seemed to be a major factor for companies that lacked employee participation in the programs, with survey respondents citing “feeling guilty about not working as hard” or “negative client/customer reactions” as major deterrents. Additionally, less than one-third of survey respondents said they perceived flexible work arrangements as being completely positive.

While flex-time may have a ways to go before it’s widely adopted by both companies and their employees, there is some good news for working mothers who feel guilty about juggling a hectic work schedule and family life. An analysis recently published in the American Psychological Association’s Psychological Bulletin shows that children with working mothers don’t demonstrate significant differences in behavior or achievement than children of stay-at-home moms. The analysis looked at 69 studies on working mothers from the past 50 years, and concluded that, “With a few exceptions, early employment was not significantly associated with later achievement or internalizing/externalizing behaviors.”

Does your company offer flexibility? Would you take advantage of it if it were offered? Let us know in the comment section.

For more on working mothers, see:

The Best Companies for Working Moms

Mother’s Day Survey: The Effect of a Tough Economy on Working Moms

  1. I need a job that I can be give me flex time because i am in school 3 times a week. Are there any jobs out there to help me with this?
    Thank you

    • Temp work is good. Working at night at a job which will let you study–a facilities attendant for example–is also very good. I knew a person who worked in a mortuary and stayed up all night–he said that no one there bothered him–and took his classes in the afternoons.

      I knew another student who worked in an elder care center. Any job that will let you just sit at the front desk and keep an eye on things is great–you can study, work on your laptop, etc.

      But, yeah, look at the school you go to for student positions and temp work–they will work around your schedule.

  2. Flexible work schedules would make a working mothers life almost perfect, but as it is stated in the article, the cultural acceptance is just not there. First of all, I think these flexible jobs are very few and far between. In my 9 years as a mother I have yet to encounter one that is not working at the mall or getting paid hourly. There really isnt much for someone with a college degree. These days they will just turn around and hire someone else that can put in the 10-12 hour days. The “mom” in the office is still the most underappreciated and undervalued employee of all. It is unfortunate that even if your work is excellent if you leave at 5pm or take days off for child related reasons you are still viewed as less of an asset than the 25 year old who stays until 7pm, but has spent half of the workday on social websites.

  3. I started as a temp at a law firm and was later hired with “altered hours”. (I call them “mom hours”). I drop my daughter off at school, get to work at 7:45 am, work through to 2:45 pm (lunch at my desk), pick up the daughter and begin the business of family manager. I get in 35 paid hours a week, have paid holidays, sick time and vacation time (and health benefits if I wished to accept them), but still am available to help with homework and the traumas of the school day. I highly value this schedule and am more willing to forgive other employment issues because of the flexibility that was offered to me. I feel that the firm and I mutually respect each other’s needs.

  4. I work for a company that started out being a leader in flexibility (and other things) before I left they had removed all flexibility from the schedule (no more telecommunting, flexible hours, or even part time). They had also started on taking away other benefits from the employees. And now they are wondering why they can’t get or keep exceptional employees.

  5. This isn’t for everyone…people who are candidates for utilizing the flex schedule need to have integrity about their work ethics…and not everyone does. As gmm mentioned, there are people who will have their butts in chairs for 10-12 hours but whose productivity is nil. My employer has recently started allowing us to work from home, which is a huge benefit to me, but I always feel like the culture doesn’t support that. It ends up that I usually am MORE efficient and accomplish more when I work from home, but my colleagues can’t see that. They only see that my butt isn’t in the chair. Hopefully that will change as we start to redefine what a good work ethic is.

  6. As a person who does not have children I see inequities where I work – seems if you have kids flex time if offered (well only to certain few) and I see people take complete advantage – sicks kids at an amusement park? really? So from my experience it causes negative morale and it seems to allow other people who have children feel entitled to follow suit. Are the flex time people just as efficient and productive – no, not really – there just seems to be enough other people who will get the work done anyway.

  7. My job allows us all to work remotely 1 set day per week. This may go up if we all do ok and keep up the communications, etc. with the 1 day per week. We’re basically “testing the waters.” I think this is an excellent idea. I do not have children, but like that this is fair and across the board for all employees to utilize or not. Also, if we have bad weather, etc. it is an option to telecommute so no-one has to worry about driving in that.

  8. I’ll agree with Skidroadrider. I’ve been a working mom for 9 years, six of them with a major university that offers flexibility. While I have established myself as a person of integrity with my colleagues I still see the “good daddy” bias. If I need to use my flexibility I get jeers and questions from colleagues and managers that my male co-workers don’t (I sit near the big bosses desk, I know who’s questioned and who isn’t). Culturally as a whole we need to come to a place where if the work is getting done then who cares where a person sits to do it.

  9. As a person without a child, thus no offer of flex time, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been taken advantage of by “flex time”. It got to a point where my bosses didn’t even ask those employees who used it to work extra hours, and eventually it was just me staying late and working 50+ hrs a week, although I come out looking like a harder worker. I would be OK with it if it was offered to everyone, not just people with kids. And people abuse it CONSTANTLY. It’s a sick game with some people, just to see how much they can screw out of the company.

  10. After 15 years of employment with my company, I was offered to work at home full time. I do go in the office to work 2 days a month to catch up, have face time, and have my laptop worked on. This is an offer made to employees based on their job requirements and their work performance. I had to sign a formal agreement to work from home.

    I do really enjoy it. Just like when I was in the office working, I am expected to get the job done regardless of the hours. The system is a little slower when remote so I end up working many more hours. Because I am exempt, it doesn’t matter if I am working 15 hour days…in the office or not. My employer enjoys it because I hardly ever call in sick and they can reach me past 5 pm and on weekends.

    So those that feel people that work at home take advantage of those that work in the office are crazy. I can see how that could happen but that just means the wrong people are being offered the flexible schedule.

    I also think it is wrong to only offer it to people with kids. In fact, part of my agreement is that I won’t have kids home when I am working so they have to go to daycare and such still…just like if I was going to the office. Working from home should not be a solution to a day care situation. You need to treat it just the same as if you were in the office….except you are at a home office instead.

    I do feel like by working remote, people assume I am not serious about my career and I will miss out on advancement opportunities. So I agree the culture needs to change a little bit more.

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