It takes more than just policies to make a workplace truly flexible. The whole office culture has to change.
Phyllis Moen, a sociologist who was widowed when her two children were young, has made a career studying the challenges of working full time while raising a family. She was an early voice calling for the government to provide paid maternity leave and offer benefits for part-time workers, but eventually, when she saw no signs of progress, she began considering instead the ways that corporations could reconfigure work to address the realities of the modern employee, who was more likely than ever to be a single parent or part of a dual-income couple. ‘‘We wanted to do a field experiment at a corporation that reduced its hours,’’ she said, ‘‘but realized nobody would let us do that. We thought they would be more willing to experiment with giving workers more control.’’
How do the companies reinforce the idea that flexibility is open to all and not reserved for the few, the desperate or the highly privileged? In a nationwide survey, as many as 96 percent of employees said that they have some degree of flexibility, but only 56 percent believed that their company was very supportive of that option. And in a survey the Families and Work Institute conducted last year, 40 percent of respondents said that they agreed that in their work environment, people who asked for time off or for alternative work schedules to address personal or family needs were less likely to get ahead.
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