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Why Is Your Flextime (Policy) So Inflexible?

Many companies toot the presence of a flextime policy as a benefit to attract potential employees. Only for an employee to accept a position and find out – “Uh oh, this flextime policy isn’t so flexible”.

Why does this occur? Usually, it’s because although the policy was put in place, the necessary socialization to shift beliefs and behaviors about work hours and productivity was never done in the organization.

The Formal and Informal Implications of Flextime

Flextime policies have both a formal and informal implication in the workplace. The formal implication is that employees can benefit from flexible schedules, telecommuting, part-time work and/or job sharing. The informal implication of flextime policies is the indication that the company is prioritizing work output over facetime. The idea that we no longer all have to arrive and leave at the same time for managers to know that their employees are working. The work output is the determining factor.

Flextime, the Forbidden Fruit of the Workplace

Policy that challenges dominant beliefs without socialization of employees may sabotage the intended effects of the policy. The result is that, instead of a work environment where employees feel empowered to work in ways that best support their productivity and/or personal needs, you have a workplace that feels restrictive and stigmatizes employees who request or use flextime.

The stigma is communicated and reinforced through jokes, sarcasm or managers who cringe or retaliate when their employees want to broach the topic of flextime. Several studies documented instances where employees who used flexible work arrangements suffered from wage penalties, lower performance evaluations and stagnated career progression. Fear of retaliation even resulted in some states (e.g. Vermont and New Hampshire) passing laws against retaliation towards employees who bring up the subject of flextime.

Women are often stigmatized the hardest for using flextime. A perfect illustration of this is a statement from a male manager in the 2010 Velez v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals sex discrimination case. In an affidavit from one woman she quoted her manager providing the reason why he doesn’t hire young women as follows,

 

“First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes flex time and a baby carriage”

 

Women who take advantage of flextime, usually to manage family responsibilities, are perceived as not being serious about their careers and as a less desirable labor source.

The stigma and potential negative career consequences of flextime can turn it into the forbidden fruit of the workplace – deceptively tempting, but ultimately not good for the employee or their career.

Socialization is Key

Changing beliefs or modifying beliefs to align with organizational priorities is one of the hardest things to do, but appropriate socialization of employees can help. Socialization is the direct communication, internal messaging and organizational practices that support a desired behavior. For policies, similar to flextime policies, that challenge the beliefs of a large portion of your workforce, socialization must go hand in hand with policy rollout. Below are a few suggestions of how to effectively socialize employees to be receptive or responsive to such policy changes:

Clearly communicate the importance of the change. Any policy that may challenge the dominant beliefs of the organization should be clearly communicated by leadership before rolling it out. The communication should not only include the desired policy change, but also specifically why it’s important to the organization’s success. Linking policy change to more tangible outcomes like organizational success helps reluctant employees understand what’s in it for them. If the organization succeeds I succeed too.

Hire for the change you want to see. The concept of the herd mentality illustrates how peers can influence the adoption of behaviors. The herd mentality can be a rule of numbers, the few follow the majority, or it can be a rule of status. Internal influence to evoke a change in beliefs is particularly effective when the change agent occupies a leadership position. Employees are likely to emulate the beliefs and values modeled by leadership. To facilitate this companies should hire employees who demonstrate past behaviors in line with the desired values of the company.

Align organizational norms. Another way to influence a change in beliefs or compliance with new ways of thinking is organizational norms. Norms, are how a company does things day to day and includes accepted behaviors and practices, as well as the policies and systems that support it. Norms that support the acceptance of flextime policies might include rewarding employees for key output, not time in the office. Or developing better systems to engage remote employees who choose to telecommute.

It takes more than ink on paper to effectively implement a policy that challenges common beliefs about work, but through appropriate socialization and consistency, it’s both possible and worth it for the organization and employees.

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