Getting and keeping the best male employees requires not only providing flexibility but also supporting it, a new study by the Working Mother Research Institute says. Most men surveyed are working flexibly (77%), and most said their employers encourage flexible work (62%).
The 1000 men surveyed were mostly white, college-educated, breadwinners who were dads, but a significant number were single and child-free. Of the respondents who work flexibly, 66% do so as needed, and 35% have regular flex schedules. Telecommuting was the most common form of flexibility, and more than half would choose to work part-time if they could do so and still have a meaningful career. Those who worked flexibly reported greater work satisfaction, more loyalty, higher morale, better productivity, more collegiality, and better communications with their teams.
In the past, employers offered flexible work programs with finger crossed behind their backs: all savvy employees knew that they better not use the programs if they wanted to get ahead. That no longer appears to be the case for the employers of most of the male respondents. A little more than a quarter of the men said, however, that their employers could encourage flex but do not. Compared to men whose employers encouraged flex, men whose employers did not encourage flex reported being less satisfied with: compensation, respect, opportunity to develop skills, job security, relationships with co-workers, support from managers, and career prospects. The differences were not small – it is worth reading the report just to see the dramatic impact that an employer’s attitude toward flexibility can have on employees.
So, just what should an employer do to encourage flexibility? The report suggests that a key step is for employers to eliminate stigma against those who work flexibly, particularly those who work part-time.
Eliminating flexibility stigma requires serious effort, and usually involves: identifying the types of stigma present in a company, how it is expressed, and where its effects are felt; developing the company’s unique business case for eliminating flexibility stigma; creating awareness about flexibility bias and educating supervisors and employees about how they can reduce it; communicating support for flexible work verbally and nonverbally throughout the company; and putting in place systems for monitoring stigma. Like any change initiative, it requires the leadership of top management, and the sustained commitment of HR. As shown by the study, companies that undertake the effort will be amply rewarded.