Manager attitudes on flexible work are changeable, researcher finds

July 13, 2017 by David Maley, Ithaca College

Many managers are skeptical about the idea of allowing flexible work arrangements for their employees. However, a new study shows that managers develop greater interest in supporting flexible work if they are strategically exposed to its value, and sociologist Stephen Sweet says his findings could give a boost to family-responsive employment practices.

"When gain experience with workers operating with flexible schedules, they tend to increase their confidence that schedule flexibility has positive effects on and -group behavior," says Sweet. "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."

Sweet is an associate professor of sociology at Ithaca College and a visiting scholar at the Center on Aging & Work at Boston College. Published in the journal Community, Work & Family, his research was coauthored by Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes and Jacqueline James from Boston College.

Flexible work arrangements (FWAs) have yet to be widely implemented in the United States, in part because of limited support from managers. Those who oppose the idea may believe that allowing employees to work from a home office or on a flexible schedule may impede worker productivity and commitment, team performance and the sharing of knowledge.

"Our interest is in thinking about how to expand support for , primarily because it can help workers manage the many demands they have off the job," says Sweet. "But freeing up time for an 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."

The study followed a group of managers at a large financial services company over the course of a year, conducting baseline and follow-up surveys on their attitudes toward FWAs. Eight months into the study, half of the managers were shown a report that said other managers in the company tended to support flexibility within the organization. Managers who received the customized report developed more positive attitudes towards flexibility and tended to expand FWAs in their own work units.

"Some managers have a jaundiced view of flexible work arrangements because they think it will make their own work harder and is not in their career interest," says Sweet. "Our research indicates that if a company has an effective communications strategy, where it can explain to managers not only in an abstract way that flexible work options are beneficial, but that their peers support these policies, it can transform manager sentiments toward embracing FWAs.

"If managers can be supportive and if employees can show that these arrangements are appropriate from a business perspective, that can justify manager support for flexible work practices. In addition, the study showed that when managers believed that such would benefit their own performance reviews, they developed a more positive stance on the value of flexible work."

Explore further: Flexible working increases job satisfaction but it depends on how you arrange it

More information: Stephen Sweet et al. Manager attitudes concerning flexible work arrangements: fixed or changeable?, Community, Work & Family (2017). DOI: 10.1080/13668803.2016.1271311

Related Stories

Workplace flexibility still a myth for most

March 18, 2014

Workplace flexibility – it's a phrase that might be appealing to job seekers or make a company look good, but a new study by the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College shows flexible work options are out of reach ...

Working from home increases productivity

October 31, 2013

( —Employees who work from home one to three days per week called 'hybrid teleworkers', are more productive than workers who do none, according to a new study undertaken by the Institute for a Broadband Enabled ...

Gendered expectations and workplace conflict

June 20, 2017

Massey University PhD graduate Jane Hurst studied the complicated relationships between women in the workplace – and found that women often have gendered expectations of each other.

Recommended for you

Oldest evidence for animals found

October 15, 2018

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, have found the oldest clue yet of animal life, dating back at least 100 million years before the famous Cambrian explosion of animal fossils.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.