Flex-Work Can Make Employees Look Bad

Topic(s): work-life balance
Publication: Academy of Management Journal (2012)
Article: Flexible Work Practices: A Source of Career Premiums or Penalties?
Authors: L.M. Leslie, C.F. Manchester, T.-Y. Park, S.A. Mehng
Reviewed by: Susan Rosengarten

Organizations are increasingly realizing the benefit of redefining traditional work roles and the standard nine-to-five workweek. In today’s fast paced marketplace, job responsibilities are more fluid and the nature of work is evolving. Flexible work practices (FWP) are more common than ever. These include flexible schedules (control over when to start and stop working), telecommuting (working outside the office), compressed workweeks (completing a week’s work in less than five days), job sharing (two employees responsible for performing one job) and part time work. Generally speaking, employees are happy to take advantage of the greater freedom these systems allow.


Employees might think that a job that allows for a flexible schedule or that lets them telecommute on occasion sounds great. However, there are a couple of important things to know. According to the authors (Leslie, Manchester, Park, & Mehng, 2012), employees’ use of flexible work practices can affect their career success. They found that flexible work practices result in “career premiums” when managers assume their subordinates are using FWPs to increase work productivity. They also found support suggesting that FWPs result in “career penalties” when managers assume their subordinates are taking advantage of these opportunities to accommodate their personal lives. Managers’ interpretations of subordinates’ motives and perceived level of organizational commitment can carry serious career consequences for subordinates as mangers wield the power to award raises and promotions.


The best way to combat and prevent negative perceptions about FWPs is to better educate managers and reduce the stigma associated with their use for personal reasons. Also, employees who use FWPs for productivity reasons in addition to or instead of for personal reasons should be trained to highlight the productivity benefits associated with FWPs during contract negotiations and while agreeing upon the terms of their use.