Flex-Time: Does Your Manager Think You’re Working Hard or Hardly Working?

Topic(s): decision making
Publication: Academy of Management Journal (Dec 2012)
Article: Flexible Work Practices: A Source of Career Premiums or Penalties?
Authors: Lisa M. Leslie, Colleen Flaherty Manchester, Tae-Youn Park and Si Ahn Mehng
Reviewed by: Susan Rosengarten

Organizations are increasingly realizing the benefit of redefining traditional work roles and the standard nine-to-five workweek. (You can thank your local IO psychologist or HR practitioner for that!) In today’s fast paced marketplace, job responsibilities are more fluid and the nature of work and how it gets done is evolving. Flexible work practices (FWP) including 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 are more common than ever, and employees are happy to take advantage of the greater freedom these systems allow.

You might think that a job that allows for a flexible schedule or that lets you telecommute on occasion rather than schlepping into the office sounds great, right? Maybe even a no-brainer? Well, before you start skyping in from home on Fridays, there are a couple of things you should know. According to Leslie, Manchester, Park & Mehng, employees’ use of flexible work practices can affect their career success. That’s right. Leslie et al. 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 their raises and promotions.

So does this mean the end of your dream of telecommuting out of the trunk of your minivan? Not necessarily. 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.