The Selfish Reason Why Managers Should Offer Flexible Working

Flexible working is a topic of persistent interest to researchers, and indeed I’ve covered many of these studies on this blog before.  For instance, one a few years ago highlighted the benefits of flexible working on a whole range of measures.

It found that flexible workers were generally a whole lot more productive than their 9-to-5 peers.  Over a nine month period they found that flexible workers:

  • achieved more
  • were off sick less often
  • worked longer hours
  • were happier in their work

Whilst many of these studies have looked at flexible working from the employees perspective, being flexible is also advantageous to the wellbeing of the manager too.  A recent study from the University of Illinois at Springfield found that workers who are denied access to flexible working by their boss are more likely to then ignore and ostracize that manager, which in turn has a big impact upon their wellbeing.

The study suggests that managers would do well to be more open with their team about their work/life balance, whilst also endeavoring to lead by example themselves.

Barriers to change

Beginning to change to a more progressive work culture can be difficult however.  Many barriers to flexible working are hard baked into the rules and culture of an organization.  For many managers, creating flexible work schedules would be very difficult even if they wanted to, whilst there are also obstacles to leaving work early or taking holidays at short notice.

Managers are also indelibly influenced by their peers.  A recent study highlighted the way managers opinions on flexible working are influenced as much by their peers as by the evidence in front of them.

“When managers gain experience with workers operating with flexible schedules, they tend to increase their confidence that schedule flexibility has positive effects on team performance and work-group behavior,” the authors say. “Even managers who are initially opposed to the idea can change their mind if they believe that their peers support such arrangements as beneficial to their organization.”

Flexible working remains on the margins of working life, in large part due to the limited support from managers.  The authors suggest that managers who oppose flexible working may do so in the belief that it will negatively impact productivity and commitment, not to mention the sharing of knowledge and wider team performance.

“Our interest is in thinking about how to expand support for flexible work, primarily because it can help workers manage the many demands they have off the job,” they say. “But freeing up time for an employee to handle their family affairs can also free up energy for them to be more effective on the job. And if an employee can work from home, that frees up expensive office space.”