Thinking of Opting Out? Why Not Flex Instead?

There's been a lot of talk about women increasingly "opting out" of work to take care of their families, but others have opted for flexible work instead.

There’s been a lot of talk about women increasingly “opting out” of work to take care of their families (a.k.a. off-ramping or taking the “mommy track”). But according to a new study, many of us are flexing our arrangements at work to continue kicking ass and taking names (oh, and earning bucks) as we manage life on the home front.

The Simmons School of Management in Boston partnered with HP to ask 400 professional women at the SOM Leadership Conference about their career/life paths. Granted, most of the women surveyed were likely highly educated, high-income managerial types, so the results had to be skewed.

But I found it interesting that those “who used flexible work arrangements did not sacrifice financial success, when compared to those who did not use them.” Can this be right? I think it’s a common belief among working women and men that flexible work arrangement = lower pay and less career advancement. But I’d love to be proven wrong on that one.

Further, the study’s authors theorize that most women are not opting out, but rather are “managing their careers differently.”

By doing so, women are rejecting an outdated career model that was created for and by the white male managers who were building corporations after World War II. That historical career model, demanding that work be primary in an individual’s life, was founded on the stay-at-home mother and stable organizations and markets. As that foundation has eroded, a new model has emerged where individuals act as “career self-agents,” and negotiate their own terms of employment. Women, as they negotiate FWAs (to essentially determine when, where and how much they will work), are leading that shift in the career paradigm.

This kind of takes me back to undergrad women’s studies classes (ahh, good times…) But it does make sense, if you think about it. Our economy changed dramatically over the last few decades, and women (as well as quite a few men) flexed right along with it.

If this survey really interests you (or you’re pursuing your own FWA), download this PDF to dig into the details. Good stuff!

6 thoughts on “Thinking of Opting Out? Why Not Flex Instead?

  1. I think FlexTime is a great option and I too am taking advantage of it. However, they still don’t make it easy – do they? Somehow my two 3-hour work from home days that I pictured being my days to catch up on emails and take care of small work projects, have turned into days full of inconvenient conference calls.

    I think companies like to think they are family friendly by offering FlexTime, and are secretly gloating because they are getting a more efficient, less expensive employee.

  2. No, they often don’t make it easy. And you’re right, many employers probably do gloat at the efficiency of it all. But I believe in standing firm and holding the line, because stubbornness often pays out. Keep it up! Craft the career and life that work best for you.

  3. I do think flex time has its challenges, Amy. For example, I, too, struggle with handling things like conference calls on my work-from-home day. I do a lot of work on Sunday and Monday nights when I’m supposed to be off so that my work-from-home days can be more about putting out small fires and completing projects during naptime. But some days, I end up doing almost as much work as I would in the office, while also caring for a toddler. I’m working to find a balance, and I always keep in mind that everybody else in the office is putting in a regular day. If they need me and I’m “on the clock”, then they’re going to ping me and expect me to step up. I don’t have the answers yet about how to make it challenge-free for everybody. Some days work better than others. It’s something I know I’ll have to keep working on, with the help of my (awesome) boss and co-workers.

  4. It is funny, I definitely feel more productive now that I only work 30 hours a week. I try to get most of my work done on the days I’m at the office and at home I work at night or in the early morning so I’m not distracted. Of course, I took a pay cut to make this arrangement work. But sometimes I think I’m getting just as much work done as when I was working 40 hours a week. By shaving 10 hours off my week, I think I just shaved off a lot work “fat”–time spent fiddling around in the morning, talking with co-workers, and putting jobs off because I had more time to get them finished.

  5. Jumping in again to ditto what Cara said. You have to have initiative to make a flexible schedule work, and I find I’m more likely to actually be working when I’m working than I have been in some of my “full-time” jobs.

  6. Ditto to what Cara AND Sara said. Plus, I don’t know about that whole “not sacrificing financial success” thing. I cut my hours, so I got a cut in pay. And I was pretty much resigned to the fact that since I did cut my hours and went PT, that there wouldn’t be any promotions coming my way anytime soon. Maybe it’s time to turn my frown upside down and stop being so negative! (And read that .pdf)

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