Inflexible on Workplace Flexibility

“A lot of the existing research assumes companies are flexible if they report that they are. The reality is very different.”

So says Stephen Sweet, a sociologist at the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College and co-author of a recent study on flexible work arrangements. His study, of 545 employers, found that only 20 percent of companies offered a variety of flexible options to most of their workers, according to a new report in today’s New York Times:

Beyond reported increases in telecommuting and flexible work schedules, recent studies show that more employers are cutting back programs that would allow workers to reduce hours to better manage the care of, say, an ill parent. Employers have also cut back the length of leave to new fathers and adoptive parents, and reduced pay given to birth mothers on leave. And fewer employers are encouraging supervisors to assess workers’ performance by what they accomplish, instead of resorting to measures like hours worked or face time.

“They are more willing to let you shuffle what you do over the course of a day, but they are more reluctant to grant you days when you are just not there or are working part-time,” said Kenneth Matos, senior director of employment research and practice at the Families and Work Institute, a research group.

The researcher Sweet says some job structures are actually “amenable to change, but operate on the assumption that current arrangements are unchangeable,” adding that even shift workers at manufacturers can incorporate options like staggered shifts. “The reality is that the full potentials of flexible work remain largely untested and unverified.”

So does your organization’s flexibility policy actually live up to its name?

The answer may surprise you…and probably not in a good way.