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How do you get male executives to embrace workplace flexibility?
Have them use flexible work options themselves.
So said the authors of a study whose findings were presented at a session on gender differences and work/life balance at the first Work-Life Focus: 2012 and Beyond Conference held recently in Washington, D.C.
“Often times, executives say they don’t use flexibility, but they do it all the time—sometimes they don’t recognize when they’re doing it,” WFD Consulting President Peter Linkow told those attending a session at the conference, which was co-sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Families and Work Institute (FWI).
The Global Study on Men and Work-Life Integration was conducted by WFD Consulting and
World at Work’s Alliance for Work-Life Progress.
Released in early 2010, the study sought to understand how companies can remove the obstacles and stereotypes that keep men from using work/life initiatives and what prevents managers—often men—from encouraging the use of work/life options. Linkow said despite the initial misgivings toward using such options, executives use work/life balance when they come home from a business meeting and stop first to attend a child’s Little League game or when they have meetings on the golf course.
Fear of Goofing Off
But while “80 percent of managers at every level believe work/life balance is good for business,” Linkow said, “there really are some commitment issues” to implementing it.
Globally, the study’s results reveal that “there is a palpable fear [from managers] that ‘if I allow people to utilize work/life benefits, work just won’t get done.’
“People who supervise people with flexible work arrangements tend to be very uncomfortable with that,” he said.
The study showed that men want flexible work arrangements just as much as women do and that financial stress is a top work/life issue.
“Financial stress ranks consistently high by country and gender as one of the top life issues; finding time for family is an issue for all, but it poses slightly more of a challenge for men,” Linkow said. In the emerging markets, establishing professional credibility at work ranks among the top issues, and most men believe that having a flexible work schedule can limit career advancement.
Linkow said attitudes about workplace flexibility have to change at the top. Business leaders worldwide say they embrace work/life balance, but often their programs don’t work because many managers still believe that the ideal worker is one who sleeps and breathes work.
Half of managers in emerging markets and 40 percent in developing markets believe that their most productive employees are those who don’t have personal attachments, the study revealed.
And even when executives say they’ve made a commitment to flexible work arrangements and put them in place, men and women alike say they are penalized for using work/life benefits—particularly those in emerging markets who are three times more likely to experience a repercussion than those in developed markets, the study revealed.
So what are the remedies to achieving more work/life balance worldwide?
“Flexible start and end times around the world [was seen as] the No.1 remedy,” Linkow said, followed by remote work and telework—particularly in the European Union and the United States, he added. “Emerging markets use flexibility more than in the U.S.”
Getting managers to try it themselves helps, too.
Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
SHRM Online Workplace Flexibility Resource Page
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