HR News & Trends, News

Weekly Wrap: Flex Work Is Growing, So Why Aren’t More Women Doing It?

Photo by istockphoto.com

Everyone knows that flex work (or telework, or whatever else you call it) has been on the rise, and last year’s prolonged debate when Yahoo decided to get rid of the option for their workforce exposed the strong feelings that so many have about it.

That’s why some new research from the Flex+Strategy Group and Work+Life Fit, Inc. (FSG/WLF) is pretty interesting as it digs into this workforce trend that so many feel so very passionately about.

The key findings were somewhat surprising.

Some 31% are engaged in flex work

The survey of 556 full-time employed adults found that nearly one-third (31 percent) do most of their work away from their employer’s location, and nearly three out of four of those remote workers are men.

Here’s my take: You can quibble with the number of workers sampled, but knowing that more than 30 percent of employees have some form of a flexible work arrangement tells me that this is getting to be a mainstream business practice and not just an alternative work situation that only a lucky few get to enjoy.

The more surprising finding was that three-quarters of teleworkers are men. I would have thought that women would have transitioned to these kind of work arrangements more quickly and in larger numbers given how many working women are juggling child care duties as well.

Well, maybe that’s just my misinformed stereotype about people who have flexible or telework arrangements. The FSG/WLF’s research tackled some of those notions as well, pointing out that the survey data shows that the typical full-time remote worker is:

  • NOT a woman – Among those that telework, 71 percent were men.
  • NOT a parent — There is no significant difference between remote workers with or without kids.
  • Not a Millennial — There is no significant difference in the age groups of remote workers.

Yes, “telework is not a perk”

WorkLifeFitWhereWorkFINALInforgraphicAlmost one-third of the work that gets done today gets done from home, coffee shops and other locations, yet too many corporate leaders treat telework as a disposable option, as in the case of Yahoo,”  said Cali Williams Yost, CEO, Flex+Strategy Group, in a press release about the research.

She adds: “Telework is not a perk and it’s certainly not just for moms and Gen Y. Rather, it’s an operational strategy. Think of it as anything less and organizations ignore what has become a vital part of their business and the way their people actually work.”

The research also looked at people who are still working in an office, and it found that “respondents reported doing most of their work either in a private office (30 percent) or a cube or open office space (33 percent), with women (43 percent) significantly more likely than men (27 percent) to work in cubes/open spaces.

Overall, cube/open office workers struggle the most, and the survey found that they were the largest group reporting less work life flexibility now than at this time last year (42 percent) when compared to their remote and private office colleagues, and of those who feel they have the least control over their work life flexibility, cube/open office workers were the largest percentage.

In addition, “they were significantly more likely to say they didn’t use or improve their work life flexibility because ‘it might hurt your career/others think you don’t work as hard’ when compared to remote workers, and Yost said she believes worries about a “mommy track” stigma may be one reason why fewer women work remotely compared to men.

Takeaways for employers

One last thing: If you dig into the survey a little more, you’ll find more breakdowns of the research data that are valuable, but the “Takeaway Tips for Employers” are probably where the rubber really meets the road. These three are the most instructive:

  1. Understand the consequences to your business if you don’t pay attention to work-life flexibility. The majority of respondents agreed (66 percent) that the business would suffer in a number of key areas without work-life flexibility, with the top three areas being health (48 percent), morale (41 percent) and productivity (36 percent).
  2. Increased workloads may be here to stay but work-life flexibility can help employees strategically. Unfortunately, according to the survey, individuals see their workload and lack of time as the primary obstacles to work life flexibility (29 percent), not as an opportunity.
  3. Position work-life flexibility in your organization as a “strategy to help retain talent, manage workload and grow.” Avoid references that would imply a “benefit,” “program,” or “perk” that’s nice to have but not critical to the business. Language and perception matter. According to the 2011 Work+Life Fit Reality Check, only 50 percent of respondents believe that work life flexibility is a strategy. The remainder either thought it was an “employee perk or benefit” (36 percent) or didn’t know what it was (14 percent). There’s work to do in this area.

The executive summary of the survey summarized this well:

Flexibility is no longer a bright, shiny, novelty item. It’s here to stay, but, according to the 2011 Work+Life Fit™ Reality Check, evolving roadblocks still unnecessarily hinder how we optimize and benefit from flexibility personally and professionally.”

How to get hired at Google

Of course, there’s more than the latest survey on flex work in the news this week. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • How to get a job at Google. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman had an interesting column this week off an interview he did with Google’s Lazlo Bock, the company’s Vice President of People Operations (read, CHRO), where Bock details what Google looks for in a prospective hire. Most surprising to me? How expertise is the “least important attribute” that Google looks for from candidates.
  • Eliminating qualified candidates in seconds. Lots of hiring is arbitrary — too much so, I think, when you consider how many companies bitch that they can’t find good people — but this Los Angeles Times story points out an incredibly arbitrary and shortsighted practice that was used for LA Fire Department candidates. “For thousands of people seeking coveted spots at the Los Angeles Fire Department last year, it all came down to April 22. … But what the applicants didn’t know beforehand was how crucial speed would become in determining if they had a chance at one of 70 open slots. An overwhelming majority would be quietly eliminated from consideration not because they weren’t qualified, but because their physical fitness test record wasn’t deemed to have arrived within the first 60 seconds. City officials say they later decided they would take what they got in that first minute and set the rest aside to avoid having to evaluate thousands of submissions.”
  • Best Buy axing 2,000 managers. It’s tough to work at a dying business like Best Buy. Not only did they get rid of their famous flexible work strategy (ROWE), but now it looks like the business is sliding south and managers are getting the axe. According to the Minneapolis StarTribune, ” “Best Buy apparently told about 2,000 managers around the United States on Wednesday that they were being laid off, a move that would be the company’s biggest job reduction since July 2012 as it continues to cut costs following a weaker-than-expected holiday season. The layoffs will affect about 1.4 percent of Best Buy’s 145,000-person workforce.”
  • Only in LA: Getting a drive-thru burger in a Lamborghini. This doesn’t have much to do about managing a workforce, but I was amused by this story actor Tom Felton (of Harry Potter fame) told to Conan’O'Brien recently about going through the drive-thru at a Southern California In-N-Out Burger in a Lamborghini. It’s worth watching.

John Hollon is Vice President for Editorial of TLNT.com, and the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices. Contact him at john@tlnt.com, and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/johnhollon.
  • Pam

    FYI the survey was conducted by ORC International using a national probability sample of FT employees so it is indeed representative if US.

  • Kwijibo

    It’s hard to imagine an employer reasoning that a man asking to work from home intends to spend company time on child rearing and laundry, that his request denotes a family-first attitude and lack of career commitment that dooms him to a dead end career daddy-track even if his request is denied. Women, on the other hand, and especially mothers, may find the potential price even of discussing telework too high.