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Men have all the flex when it comes to corporate flex time

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(CNN) — I have long thought millennials, who expect flexibility in the workplace, would be the group that would bring an end to the stigma that is too-often associated with flex time — the belief that wanting a flexible work arrangement means you aren’t willing to work as hard.

But now I’m thinking it’s going to be men who will get us there.

A new report by the Working Mother Research Institute had some fairly startling findings: Nearly eight out of 10 men (77%) say they have flexible work schedules and nearly the same amount (79%) say they feel somewhat or very comfortable using flex time.

The online survey of 1,000 men, 65% of whom were married or had a partner and who had an average age of 39, also found that most men prefer a mix of working from home as well as in the office. Of the men surveyed, 25% favored working in the office full time but occasionally from home, followed by 23% who preferred working from home one to two days per week.

Also, 47% said they have a formal flex arrangement at work, according to the report.

“Men not only want flex, they are using it confidently — in numbers that rival women,” said Jennifer Owens, editorial director of Working Mother Media. “It means that workplace flex is no longer a working mother, or even a women’s, issue. It’s an everyone issue, which lends more fuel to the argument that flex works, no matter who you are.”

The Working Mother report, which was sponsored by the accounting firm Ernst & Young, follows other surveys that are helping to change the narrative that work-life balance is strictly a concern of women. It’s not.

According to a survey last year by the Pew Research Center, 50% of working fathers said it was very or somewhat difficult to balance the responsibilities of their jobs and their families — nearly as many as working mothers agreed (56%).

And, according to a national survey earlier this year by Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit Inc., which works with organizations and individuals to create flexible workplaces, three out of four telecommuters were men.

The more men embrace flex time, the more perceptions are likely to shift. Consider this finding in the Working Mother Report: 63% of the men surveyed said employees who use flex time are as productive or more productive than employees who don’t participate in any flexible work arrangement.

“For women, it’s a really big deal to realize that the men on your team are flexing their schedules as well,” said Owens. “When everybody’s doing it, the women are less likely to be thought of as less committed to their work and careers just because they leave at 5 p.m. to pick up the kids from after-school programs a few times a week.”

That said, there still appears to be a double standard when it comes to men and women using flex time.

Dorothy Liu, founder and partner of VelaTrio Consulting, said on Facebook that she “always found it interesting” that when women take advantage of flexible schedules, they are viewed as not “being serious about their careers.” When a man uses flex time, she said he is often viewed as “being a good family man.”

Sara Sutton Fell, chief executive officer of FlexJobs, a company which tries to find flexible work arrangements for women and men, said there are “historical stigmas” associated with work flexibility.

“For example, when many people think of ‘working from home,’ they envision a mother working while also watching her kids, doing laundry, taking regular breaks to chat with neighbors or any number of similar less-than-professional distractions.”

Sutton Fell, who is also founder of the nonprofit 1 Million for Work Flexibility, which focuses on raising awareness of work flexibility, pointed to a study published last year by the Journal of Social Issues. It found that bosses favored men over women when granting requests for flexible work schedules.

The hope is that as more men are part of the work-life conversation and are experiencing it firsthand, the double standard may start to shift.

But here’s another sticking point: There is still a widely held belief that flexible work arrangements are more challenging to manage. According to the report, while eight out of 10 male supervisors believe employees should have access to flexible schedules, 39% wish they didn’t have to manage employees who work flexibly. 

“This is something we try to educate people on all the time,” said Sutton Fell. “Any change in the way we are used to doing things will feel ‘hard’ at first, but the great thing is that the management style that works best with flexible workers is also the style that results in better productivity, a more engaged and collaborative team, and a better functioning team overall.”

Men also face some of the same judgment that women who use flex-time experience.

According to the Working Mother report, 41% of men who have flexible schedules say they frequently feel their commitment to work is questioned by others. That number jumps to 58% for men who work from home three to four times per week.

And, while 59% of the working dads surveyed would choose to work part time if they could still have a meaningful and productive career, 36% say part-time work is looked down upon at their company.

We clearly have a long way to go before more managers and companies realize what the men in the Working Mother report, and what women in many other surveys, have said loud and clear: Flexible work schedules are good for employee and employer.

In this newest report, 86% of men said flex time improves their overall job satisfaction, 85% said it improves their productivity, 84% said it improves their motivation, and 82% said it improves their loyalty to the organization.

With numbers like those, why wouldn’t all companies embrace it?

Do you think there is a double standard in how men and women who use flex time are judged? Tell Kelly Wallace on Twitter or CNN Living on Facebook.

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2 comments

  • Mike Fisher

    As a small business owner (State Farm Agent) I incorporated flex time into scheduling about a year ago. I have some staff that like coming in late, some like leaving early, ect. My employees actually manage the schedule themselves. I am always properly staffed and my clients receive great customer service. In the end, my staff enjoys the flexibility with time and I’m not paying them during slow periods when I don’t need everyone on the clock.

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