Advocates for flexible work schedules often point out all the benefits that employers gain from offering flex time to their employees: Employees with flex time work more hours. Flexible companies retain female workers, and everyone is happier overall. It’s a win-win, right? Not so fast, according to a new study that finds that you could be penalized for asking for a flexible work schedule.
Researchers from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management found that if a manager thinks an employee is using a flexible schedule to better manager her personal life, the manager tends to think lower of her.
By contrast, if the employee is perceived to be using flex time to boost her productivity, it increases her chances for raises and promotions. The Wall Street Journal reported on the research, which has not been published yet.
Researchers approached the question in a few ways. They gathered survey data focusing on flexible work policies from hundreds of managers and employees at Fortune 500 companies, and then analyzed salary, performance, and job level. They found that when managers thought an employee was taking advantage of a flex-time policy in order to do better work, that employee was rewarded.
But in another part of the study, when researchers asked subjects to evaluate a series of fictional employees, another pattern emerged. Employees who were said to opt for a flexible schedule to accommodate their personal lives — think kids, elderly parents, hobbies — were assessed more negatively than those who were simply attempting to be more productive.
This isn’t good news for women, who more often take on caregiving roles that require creative scheduling on the job. But maybe there’s a way to fudge your reason for wanting that flex time. As the Journal puts it, “When requesting flexibility in a work arrangement, forget work-life balance and emphasize productivity gains instead.”