Lack of Flexible Work is a Problem for Mothers — and Fathers

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May 9, 2018

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Flexi time has often been touted as the key to retaining working mothers, but a new study is finding inflexible and unsupportive work environments are just as detrimental to fathers, too.

If employees feel that taking time off from work for family life can cause a fallout in their careers, they are more likely to feel dissatisfied in their work and experience more work-life spillover. This likely ends in leaving their jobs, say researchers from University of Michigan and California State University Channel Islands.

The pattern can create a negative workplace culture can potentially affects all workers, says study co-author Erin Cech, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Michigan. Cech and other researchers aimed to unpack the consequences of the ‘ideal worker norm,’ that is, the common expectation among employers that employees should be dedicated to the job and only the job, available to work full-time until they retire, with minimal digressions related to family life.

The team interviewed a nationally representative sample of over 2,700 working people, half men and half women, asking them questions about job satisfaction, engagement, job-to-home spillover, home-to-job spillover and turnover intentions. Researchers also inquired whether participants felt their workplace environment accommodated taking time off for personal or family reasons without their jobs and careers suffering.

Nearly 40% of the participants felt they would be unlikely to advance in their career if they asked for time off. Many of the participants were caregivers or had already engaged in flexible work arrangements.

And many of the participants did not have children, highlighting the fact that an inflexible work environment is a problem for all employees, explains Lindsey Trimble O’Connor, the study’s lead author. O’Connor is an assistant professor of sociology at California State University Channel Islands. Employees, with or without children, who lack control over their schedule, feel unsupported and unhappy, concluded the study, published in the journal Sociological Perspectives.

The findings are particularly pertinent in India, where the concept of ‘facetime’ is an ingrained part of office culture, despite evidence that flexible work arrangements make employees more productive. Family leave policies that go beyond government-mandated maternity leave, as well as employer-assisted child care, have been shown to boost employee retention, as well, yielding benefits for all — but have yet to take off.

In light of their findings, the team is calling for employers to restructure work norms that penalize employees who seek a balanced work and personal life.

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Written By Angelina Shah

Angelina Shah is a staff writer with The Swaddle. In her previous life she was a copywriter in advertising. She has a penchant for reading, singing, travelling and being obsessed with superheroes.

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