Journal Issue: Work and Family Volume 21 Number 2 Fall 2011
Access to Workplace Flexibility
A logical remedy to employees' sensation of being famished for time is workplace flexibility —allowing employees to have flexible work schedules that enable them to better manage work and personal or family life. According to the latest (2008) edition of Families and Work Institute's ongoing nationally representative study, the National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW), a large majority of employees—87 percent—report that having workplace flexibility would be "extremely" or "very" important if they were looking for a new job. Employee access to such flexibility, however, is limited, and even when employees do have access, they may worry about using the offered flexibility—often for good reasons, as several studies show.
Jennifer Glass, for example, found that mothers who used flexibility policies offered by their employer experienced wage depression, missed promotions, and other negative consequences, even when the policies used were employer-sanctioned. The long-term effect of flexibility policies on mothers' wages depended on the type of flexibility used, the occupation, and continuity with the employer.4 Similarly, Michael Judiesch and Karen Lyness studied 11,815 managers and found that those who took leaves were more likely to receive smaller salary increases and negative performance evaluations, and less likely to be promoted. They did not find gender differences in the penalties for leaves of absence.5 In addition, a study by Scott Schieman and Paul Glavin found that increased use of flexibility can lead to "work-home blurring."6 Because workers were available to their employers anytime, anywhere, they reported "receiving work-related contact outside of normal work hours" and found themselves working during designated family time.
The 2008 edition of the NSCW investigated, for the first time, workers' access to, use of, and demand for flexibility. The 2008 survey explored twenty-eight different aspects of workplace flexibility, which can be grouped into five categories (the categories are aligned with the labels used by business leaders). The first category, Choices in Managing Time, includes feeling control over one's schedule and agreeing that the schedule or shift meets one's needs. The second, Flextime and Flexplace, includes traditional flexibility (control over when the workday begins and ends), daily flexibility (short-notice schedule changes), compressed workweeks, and working at home. Reduced Time, the third category, includes, for full-timers, being able to work part time in their current position, and, for part-timers, being able to work full time in their current position, as well as to work part year. The fourth option, Time Off, includes being able, without difficulty, to take time for personal or family matters, at least five paid days off for personal illness, at least five paid days off to care for sick children, time off for elder care without fear of losing one's job, paid vacation time, paid holiday time off, time off for volunteering without the loss of pay, and maternity and paternity leave. The final category, Culture of Flexibility, includes not having to choose between advancement and devoting attention to family life, not jeopardizing advancement by asking for flexibility, and having overall supervisor support when work-life issues arise. Table 1 presents an overview of how many employees have access to each of these five types of flexibility.
In the following subsections we break down the overall employee responses from the 2008 NSCW, making comparisons within the following employee groups: men and women; parent and nonparents; employees of different ages—Generation Y (born between 1980 and 1995), Generation X (born between 1966 and 1979), Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1965), and Matures (born between 1922 and 1945); employees with different levels of education (high school or less, some postsecondary education, four-year college degree or more); employees with full- and part-time jobs; employees from different industries (goods-producing and service industries); employees who are managerial and professional and those who are not; unionized and nonunionized employees; hourly and salaried employees; employees who are married or living with spouse or partner and those who are not; and employees from various annual wage groups (less than $25,000, $25,000–$39,999, $40,000– $64,999, and $65,000 and more).7
Choices in Managing Time
Only 37 percent of employees overall report having "complete" or "a lot" of control over their work schedules. Perhaps surprisingly, no differences exist between the responses of men and women and between the responses of parents and nonparents in schedule control, but there are differences among other groups. Older employees, more educated employees, part-time employees, employees working in the service sector, nonunionized employees, managers and professionals, and those with higher wages report having the greatest schedule control.
Employees are more likely to feel that their schedule or shift meets their needs (62 percent) than they are to feel that they have control over their schedule (37 percent). Age matters here. Matures (76 percent) clearly experience a better fit in their schedule or shifts than Generation Y employees (56 percent), as do managerial employees, nonunion employees, and those living in a couple relationship.
Flextime and Flexplace
Overall, 45 percent of employees report having access to traditional flextime, defined as being able to choose one's own starting and ending times for work. Men (48 percent) are more likely to have access to traditional flextime than women (41 percent), as are more highly educated employees. Those with a college degree or higher have much greater access (57 percent) than those with a high school degree or less (37 percent). Employees working in the service sector, salaried employees, employees in managerial positions, and employees with higher wages have greater access to traditional flextime than other groups, but the gap in access is particularly large between nonunionized (49 percent) and unionized employees (27 percent).
A far smaller share of employees (16 percent) is allowed the option of flexplace, defined as working some regularly scheduled paid hours at home. Men, older employees, more highly educated employees, full-timers, employees in the service sector, managers, nonunion employees, salaried employees, those living with their spouse or partners, and those with the highest wages are the most likely to have access to flexplace. Particularly large is the gap between employees with the highest wages (41 percent) and those with the lowest (4 percent).
In addition to asking about traditional flextime and flexplace, the 2008 NSCW asked employees whether they can make changes to their starting and quitting times when last-minute problems arise and found that 84 percent had such access. The groups with the most access to this short-notice daily flexibility are managers, nonunionized employees, salaried employees, better-educated employees, and higher-income employees. Certainly, education affects the kind of jobs that employees have—and certain jobs lend themselves more easily to flexibility than others—but, as becomes clear when we discuss other types of flexibility, less advantaged employees are also less advantaged in having access to workplace flexibility in many respects, although they may in fact have the greatest need for it. Experience at Families and Work Institute reveals that more jobs lend themselves to flexibility than employers might initially imagine.
Compressed workweeks are defined as working a full-time schedule, but shifting some of those hours into longer days to be able to take more time off on other days—such as being able to work four ten-hour days a week instead of five eight-hour days or for all or part of the year. Some employers allow compressed workweeks during the summer months, calling them "summer hours." Thirty-six percent of the total workforce reports having access to compressed workweeks. The only difference in access is between nonunionized and unionized employees (37 percent and 31 percent, respectively).
In investigating access to reduced time, the 2008 NSCW asked part-timers whether they believe they could work full time in their same position and full-timers whether they believe they could work part time in their position if they wished to. The question raises a variety of constraints, including whether employees could afford such changes in workload and time commitments. Only 37 percent of the full-time employees (who make up 82 percent of the study sample) report that they could arrange to reduce their hours to part time in their same position, if they wanted to, with women (41 percent) more likely than men (34 percent) to feel this way. Overall, because part-time jobs are more likely to be filled by women (63 percent) than men (37 percent), it may not be surprising that women might also take jobs where reducing their time is a possibility.
Part-time work is sometimes referred to as a part-time ghetto from which escape is difficult. But according to the 2008 NSCW survey, 92 percent of the part-time employees (who make up 18 percent of the study group) report that they can move into a full-time schedule and maintain their current position if they want to.
The 2008 NSCW also asked full-time employees if they would prefer to work a part-time schedule, and part-time employees if they would prefer a full-time schedule. A greater share of part-time employees (37 percent) report an interest in working a full-time schedule than vice versa (20 percent). With 37 percent of part-time employees wanting to move to a full-time schedule and more than nine in ten reporting being able to do so, it is unclear why more part-timers don't increase their hours. Obviously, other factors must explain this discrepancy. Interestingly, data from Families and Work Institute's most recent nationally representative study of employers, the 2008 National Study of Employers, show that 44 percent of employers allow at least some of their employees to move back and forth between full- and parttime positions while remaining at their same level.8 Thus employees may also be more optimistic about being able to make these changes than employers are.
In exploring access to part-year work, the 2008 NSCW asked whether employees could arrange to work for only part of the year in their current job and found that 23 percent have such access. Part-time employees are more likely than full-time employees to be able to work part year (36 percent and 20 percent, respectively). Other employees who are most likely to be able to work part year are those in the service industry, hourly employees, employees not living with a spouse or partner, and employees in jobs with the lowest wages.
Overall, 35 percent of employees report that it is "not at all hard" to take time off during the workday for personal or family matters. Mature employees (51 percent) have much greater access to this kind of flexibility than do Generation Y employees (29 percent). The kind of trust that permits time off during the day appears to be earned by a longer tenure in the workforce. Employees who live with a spouse or partner (38 percent) also have greater access to time off during the workday than those who do not (30 percent).
The 2008 NSCW asked employees who were providing elder care if they were able to take the time off they needed without fear of losing income as a result. Overall, 53 percent report being able to do so, with men, full-time employees, and those living with a spouse or partner having more access to this flexibility than their counterparts. Seventy percent of employees who have elder care responsibilities report being able to take time off to perform such care without fear of losing their job. Women and older employees report having the greatest such access.
Asked the extent to which their employers support their contributing to their communities by volunteering, 32 percent of employees report that they are able to volunteer during work time without losing pay. Three differences emerge among groups: men (36 percent) have greater access to paid leave for volunteering than women (28 percent), nonunion employees (35 percent) have more access than unionized employees (19 percent), and salaried employees (42 percent) have more access than hourly employees (26 percent).
The 2008 NSCW also asked employees with a child under the age of six about their experiences in taking time off after birth or adoption (although these employees may not have worked for their current employers when the child was born). Nearly all women with children under the age of six (99 percent) report having access to some maternity leave, which could also include the time off for medical disability. The only significant differences in access are between full-time (100 percent) and part-time (95 percent) employees and between those in the service industries (100 percent) and the goodsproducing industries (92 percent). When asked whether either partial or full pay was provided during this leave, the share reporting access drops to 48 percent. Those most likely to receive pay during leave are bettereducated, full-time, and salaried employees and those who already have higher wages.
Men and women with children under the age of six have similar access to caregiving leave. Overall, 94 percent of fathers have some access to leave after the birth or adoption of a child. The only difference is between men who live with a spouse or partner (95 percent) and men who don't (76 percent). Overall, 56 percent of fathers report being given some pay during leave, with older, better-educated, and salaried employees and those with higher wages more likely to have access to payment during leave than others. It is likely, however, that men are using personal or vacation time for wages during caregiving leaves rather than paid paternity leave.
For the most common forms of paid time off, large differences exist among different groups of employees. For example, 62 percent of all employees report having at least five paid days off for personal illness, but the share of full-timers (68 percent) with access to paid sick time is much larger than the share of part-timers (37 percent). Parents (67 percent) are more likely to have paid sick time than nonparents (59 percent)—perhaps because parents look for jobs that provide this option. In addition, employees who are in the Baby Boomer generation, in service industries, salaried, living with their spouse or partner, and who have higher wages are the most likely to have paid sick time. One particular difference—that between union and nonunion employees—is interesting. Nonunionized employees have greater access to unpaid flexibility, but unionized employees have greater access to paid time off. For example, 72 percent of unionized employees have at least five paid sick days, compared with 60 percent of nonunionized employees.
More advantaged employees have the greatest access to paid sick days—only 55 percent of employees with a high school degree or less have access compared with 76 percent of college-educated employees. Managers and professionals, as well as employees with higher wages, are also more likely to have access to paid sick days than do less well-paid employees.
A smaller share of employees has at least five paid days for their children's illnesses (48 percent) than has such leave for their own illnesses (62 percent). The pattern of access is similar to that for paid sick time, with more highly educated employees, full-timers, employees in the service industries, managers and professionals, unionized employees, salaried employees, and higher wage earners having the greatest access.
Overall, 78 percent of employees have access to paid vacation days. Men (82 percent) have greater access than do women (73 percent). Employees in the middle years (Generation X and Baby Boomers) have greater access than those who are younger and older. Parents, better-educated employees, full-timers, managers and professionals, salaried employees, employees living with a spouse or partner, and higher wage earners have the greatest access.
On average, employees have 15.4 days of paid vacation time a year. As has been the pattern, more advantaged employees have access to longer vacations. As an example, the highestpaid employees average 18.9 vacation days, compared with 10.3 days for the lowest-paid employees.
Similarly, 77 percent of the workforce has access to paid holidays. Those most likely to have paid holidays are men, parents, bettereducated employees, full-timers, managers and professionals, salaried employees, employees living with their spouse or partner, and higher-wage employees.
Culture of Flexibility
Some employees who have access to flexibility believe that they would pay a price if they used it. To determine how widespread such views are, the 2008 NSCW investigated the extent to which employees think that they put their jobs in jeopardy if they use the flexibility they are offered.
Asked how strongly they agree or disagree with the statement that they have to choose between advancing in their jobs or devoting attention to their family or personal lives, 58 percent of employees disagree strongly or somewhat. Thus, about two in five employees feel that they must make a choice between work and family life. Interestingly, those least likely to feel the need to make that choice are less well-educated employees, full-timers, and nonmanagers. In other words, the higher employees climb within their organizations, the more likely they are to believe that they have had to make tough choices.
Asked if they agree or disagree with the statement that employees who ask for flexibility are less likely to get ahead in their jobs, 61 percent disagree strongly or somewhat. The employees who are most likely to disagree are older employees, better-educated employees, employees in the service industries, managers and professionals, salaried employees, employees living with a spouse or partner, and employees with higher wages.
To measure the final item in the Culture of Flexibility—support that supervisors give employees regarding work-life issues—we created a scale of supervisor support that combines five variables.9 The scale runs from 1 to 4, with 1 representing low support and 4, high support. Among all employees, the average "score" for supervisor support is 3.3. The only significant difference in support received from supervisors is between managers and professionals (3.4) and employees in other positions (3.2).