Flextime: Why Men Don't Take It

Christine Whelan | Posted on 03/17/10

I'm all in favor of flextime, job sharing and whatever else works for both the employers and the employees. But let's not sugar-coat the realities too much: We're a long way away from the choose-your-own-adventure workplace, especially for men.

In an ongoing NPR series this week on flex-time, and work-life balance, NPR reporters have been exploring the push from women and Millennials for results-based rather than face-time work structures, telecommuting and job shares. A chart attached to the series, however, gives the impression that the majority of workers are enjoying the benefits of alternative work schedules. It's just not true: There's a big segment of the workforce who's not chomping at the bit for flextime... men.

Flextime is a policy that allows employees to chose when they will start and finish work, as long as they are still doing the appropriate amount of hours. Not everyone can take flextime - manual laborers and those working in factories can't decide they want to work from home at 10 p.m. - but you'd think that professional and managerial workers would be flocking to the idea.

Both men and women would love to make their own schedules, have more time with their family, and take advantage of and other much-touted programs like job-sharing, right? In theory, yes, but in practice, it gets tricky:

  • Will I earn less? For companies, flextime can be a big win, increasing productivity and allowing the organization to be "on" virtually 24-7. But for employees, there are concerns: In a customized job situation, will I earn less and receive fewer benefits? There aren't a ton of recent studies out there, but a 2001 study says there's no reason for concern: Both men and women earn about the same amount whether they work 9-to-5, or on their own time. Still, our gut feeling is that flex-time isn't good for a career, especially not for a man's career.
  • Will I be considered less dedicated? Especially for men, attitudes toward work are stuck ion the 1960s era of the breadwinner man and the homemaker woman. Men are concerned that they'll get behind on the job, and worry (probably quite reasonably) that they might get passed over for a promotion if they aren't putting in the appropriate face-time.
  • Will I be thought of as less of a man? We've got a very firmly entrenched belief that paid work is more valuable than unpaid work. And people want to feel valued, so there's a temptation-especially for men, since as a society we're really strict about how we value men in terms of their work productivity-to spend more time at the office.

Yet study after study find that workers with flexible hours not only are more satisfied with their jobs; they also work more intensely. Rearranging the way we work to all men to spend more time with their families and to take a more active role in the daily routines of the home is crucial for gender equality and a healthy balance between productivity and living.

I'm all in favor of flextime, job sharing and whatever else works for both the employers and the employees. But let's not sugar-coat the realities too much: We're a long way away from the choose-your-own-adventure workplace, especially for men.

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