by David Burkus
Originally published: February 20, 2017
Offering flexible workplace schedules seems like a no-brainer. Work has become more flexible — tied less to specific times and places — and gender roles have changed. Letting employees shift their hours to accommodate hectic life schedules makes sense. Surveys show that flex time ranks high on the list of benefits employees want and that women value it even more than men do.
But two recent studies suggest flex-time programs may be costly to the people who enroll in them, especially women.
The penalty begins before any scheduling adjustments are made. In a recent study by Furman University’s Christin Munsch, the reactions that men and women receive when requesting flexible work requests are quite different — and quite favorable to men. Munsch studied over 600 working-age individuals, all from the United States. Participants were shown a transcript of what they believed was a real conversation between an employee and a human resource representative. Unknown to the participants, Munsch had modified the transcript in a few ways. In some versions, the employee asked for a flexible schedule, working three days a week in the office and two from home while also coming in late or leaving early on office days. In others, no flexible work request was made. More important, Munsch modified the transcript to change the gender of the employee and the reason for the request (some versions were a request because of child care, others were specifically nonfamily reasons). All participants, regardless of transcript shown, were asked to evaluate the employee based on likability, dependability, and dedication to the job, as well as how likely they would be to accommodate the employee’s request.