Majority of men want flexible work

22 October 2014
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For decades, flexible work arrangements have been seen as an accommodation to working mothers … and often, in high-octane work environments, as a sure way to sideline careers on the “Mommy track.” But a growing body of surveys, polls and research is showing that having a measure of control over when, where and how work gets done is something nearly everybody wants these days. Including men.

In a new survey of 1,000 men released Tuesday, Working Mother Media found that nearly 80 percent said they not only worked flexible schedules but that they felt comfortable doing so.

The survey, How Men Flex, found that more than half of the men said their employers supported flexible work. About one-fourth said their employers could but chose not to. Close to 60 percent of working fathers said they would prefer to work part-time, if that meant they could still do meaningful work and rise in their careers. But one-third said part-time work was looked down on at their workplaces, and would cost them.

Jennifer Owen, director of the Working Mother Research Institute, said the report comes on the second annual National Flex Day that they created to highlight flexibility in the workplace. Last year, they looked at working mothers. This year, she said, they wanted to look at the other side of the story.

“I was expecting, because of conventional wisdom, that we’d see a hesitancy, a big gap in men’s comfort level with flexibility and how they’re using it. And the survey showed that’s completely not true,” Owens said. “Men are very confident using flexibility. It’s almost a mirror image of what we found with women. They’re all looking for the same thing.”

The report is one more indicator of the sea change underway in gender roles, workplace cultures and caregiving responsibilities. In recent years, reports by the Pew Research Center and Families and Work Institute, among others, have found that working fathers are feeling more stressed than working mothers from the conflicting demands of work and family responsibilities. Surveys have shown that younger fathers particularly see being hands-on caregivers as being as important as succeeding in their careers.

And the Families and Work Institute has found, in nationally representative surveys of employers and employees, that more men than women tend to work flexible schedules, particularly those in more senior positions.

“Men are too often an afterthought in conversations about working parents and workplace flexibility,” Karyn Twaronite, global diversity and inclusiveness officer for the financial services company Ernst & Young, said in a statement. Ernst & Young sponsored the survey. “Everyone wants to have meaningful work and personal lives and flexibility is a great equalizer, helping men and women to achieve their professional and personal goals.”

With changing social norms and demands in mind, several companies are opening up flexible work arrangements to more employees, offering paid parental leave for mothers and fathers and other programs to ease work-life conflicts, with some high-tech and financial services companies taking the lead.

Deb DeHaas, who heads diversity and inclusion programs at Deloitte, said that work-life issues have become “center stage” issues for the company, as young workers put a premium on work-life balance, dual-income career couples struggle to juggle it all, and as Baby Boomers are delaying retirement but no longer want to work intensive hours. Flexibility and work-life integration are no longer seen as for mothers or parents only, she said, but as critical for recruitment, retention, morale, engagement, productivity and the long-term health of the company.

Leaders now openly talk about their vacations, she said, the hot yoga they do to stay healthy, the marathons they run. Pilots, called “Small Things, Big Differences,” are underway to give employees more predictability over their schedules and e-mail-free weekends.

“We’re trying not only to have the work-life policies, but to make sure our culture supports it,” she said. “That people know it’s every bit as important to allow that parent time to pick up a child from day care as it is for another person to play sports or get an advanced degree.”

The How Men Flex survey also found that most men preferred a mix of working from home and the office. Men who worked remotely five days a week reported more stress than men with no flexibility in their schedules at all. A majority of these telecommuting men reported feeling isolated, that they could never get away from work, and that their commitment to the job was constantly called into question.

That, social scientists say, may be because our workplace cultures have long expected men to work nonstop for 40 years, and for women to be primary caregivers.

Laurie Rudman, a psychologist at Rutgers University, has researched workplace cultures and found that men are often rewarded for occasionally flexing their schedule to coach children’s sports teams, but that their commitment is often questioned if they take on more regular caregiving duties. Using identical resumes of men, one with overt caregiving duties and one without, Rudman found that both men and women judged the man with caregiving duties more harshly.

In the How Men Flex survey, authors also found that more than half of fathers said they would reject a job with frequent overnight travel.

And, in an interesting twist, nearly 80 percent of the male managers in the survey said they supported flexible work arrangements for all employees, but about half said they wished they didn’t have to manage those flexible schedules.

The men surveyed by Working Mother Media were, on average, 39 years old and earned an average of $67,000. Only 65 percent were married or partnered with at least one child living in the household.

Other findings include:

  • 88 percent said partners should equally share child care
  • 83 percent said partners should share housework equally
  • 74 percent agreed with the statement, “A parent should be home with children after school.”
  • 65 percent said a working mother sets a positive example for children
  • Eight of 10 men say they would be comfortable with their spouse as the primary breadwinner
  • 39 percent said they would prefer to be a stay-at-home parent

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