Men Seek Flexibility at Work

News Updates

Men value—and benefit from—workplace flexibility, research and experts say, regardless of their personal circumstances. Yet men can be more reluctant than women to use such options, even when available, unless a flexible culture exists.

“For me, as a new father, quality time with my daughter is a major priority,” Tom Guenette, director of marketing and public relations for Rakuten Loyalty, a rewards and loyalty technology firm, wrote in an e-mail interview with SHRM Online. There, male and female employees have equal access to flexible options, he explained. “Employees are encouraged to work a daily schedule that best suits their needs and productivity …. For me, that translates into coming in slightly later than I used to so that I can spend time with my daughter in the morning.”

One SHRM member commented in a SHRM Connect post that men and women in professional positions telework on a “pretty equal” basis at the insurance company where he works. And there’s a key business reason to continue the practice: “It has really become a necessity to use this as a tool in hiring and retaining IT and underwriting candidates in particular,” he wrote.

Another SHRM member employed by a large firm in Northern Virginia said his employer learned through an engagement initiative that male employees and younger workers were interested in flexible schedules. The company, therefore, dusted off a decades-old flexible work options policy and “really made an effort to communicate [its] support and leadership buy-in of its use,” he wrote in a SHRM Connect posting.

The end result: A “9/80 schedule,” in which employees work longer hours for nine days over a two-week period so they can take one day off every two weeks, became the norm at his company. This option made it possible for union employees in manufacturing positions, as well as those working in secure access roles, to benefit from flexible work.

As of January 2013, the member wrote that more than 70 percent of employees in one business unit takes advantage of one or more flexible work options, including the 9/80 (compressed workweek) schedule, telework or hoteling—working at a site closer to home. “If I know I need to be home to take my kids to an activity and my schedule permits, I may hotel or telecommute so I can be home in time,” he added.

Flexibility Can Be a Win-Win

When set up in a way that meets business and individual needs, flexible work options will be used by men and women regardless of circumstances.

“Flexible work environments benefit everyone,” according to Michael Bach, chair of the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion. “I work flexibly. I don’t follow a strict schedule—starting early some days and later on others—and I work from home on Fridays,” he wrote SHRM Online in a LinkedIn message. “This isn’t because I have kids to take care of. It’s because I need the flexibility to be as productive as I can be, while still living my life.”

“We need to move away from the idea that people need to be at their desk to be productive,” Bach added. “In fact, I think we’ve gotten to the point where a person’s desk is the least productive place to work.”

That’s the kind of message those taking care of ill or elderly family members like to hear.

Rick Lauber, author of the book Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians (Self-Counsel Press, 2010), began working part-time in 1999 as a creative copywriter for a telephone messaging company in Alberta, Canada, while he provided caregiving support to his parents. “The part-time work was ideal as it provided some continual income, kept me writing and provided additional social interaction while allowing me more freedom to help my aging parents (e.g., driving them to doctor’s appointments, doing their banking),” he wrote SHRM Online in an e-mail interview.

He encourages those in a caregiving role to meet with their supervisor or HR department to discuss the situation and explore creative work options, such as working from home, reducing hours to part-time, job-sharing, working a split shift or fewer, longer days.

Employer Efforts Support Workplace Flexibility

Some employers strive to make flexibility an expectation for all rather than a special perk for a few. For example, food and facilities management company Sodexo launched its flex initiative for its U.S. managers in 2008 in hopes of fostering a more flexible culture throughout the organization. Though the demand for formal flexible work arrangements has remained about the same in the years since it began, the organization is “making strides with informal (occasional) flexibility,” said Jodi Davidson, Sodexo’s director of diversity and inclusion, in an interview with SHRM Online.

A 2011 internal survey revealed a modest gender gap, however. Thirty-eight percent of female respondents at Sodexo said they used informal flexibility, compared with just 24 percent of male respondents.

“Individuals are acknowledging to a greater extent the flexibility that they are taking,” said Davidson, adding that men are more likely to take advantage of flexible options if an organization implements a “business-based flexibility initiative that focuses on the benefits of work/life effectiveness and flexibility for both genders.”

Sodexo also participated in the Boston College Center for Work & Family fatherhood study, The New Dad: Caring, Committed & Conflicted, in 2011. According to Davidson, the results revealed that fathers feel more work/life conflict than mothers do and that 77 percent want to spend more time with their children.

Some recommendations from that study:

  • Ensure managers understand importance of family—especially for involved fathers.
  • Recognize that working fathers and mothers have the same needs.
  • Recognize involvement in children’s activities (Boy Scouts, coaching, etc.) and count it as community service.

A report titled Men Get Flexible! Mainstreaming Flexible Work in Australian Business, published August 2012 by Diversity Council Australia (DCA), notes that men want and need access to flexibility for parenting, caregiving and volunteering, but their use of flexibility is limited and mostly informal.

Organizations can help by “making flexible work and careers standard business practice, rather than merely the domain of mothers with young children,” according to DCA’s CEO Nareen Young. “It is especially important for men to be engaged in leading organizational change on mainstreaming flexibility because leadership roles are disproportionately held by men,” she noted.

Among the DCA’s specific recommendations:

  • Foster an organizational culture that is supportive of flexible work for men by encouraging men to engage in flexible work and giving men opportunities to share their experiences with flexible work.
  • Structure work in multiple ways to respond to the diversity among men in terms of age, cultural background, life-stage, nature of work, sexual orientation, work-life priorities, etc.
  • Address men’s reluctance to use flexible work for fear of career penalties by designing new roles with flexibility as a standard practice, integrating flexibility into senior roles and promoting “success stories.”

Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM. To read the original article, please click here.