From the Blog

Is your team suffering from flexibility guilt?

Let’s talk about the dark side of work-life integration.

Flexibility guilt.

Nearly three-quarters of employees want flexible hours — but many who actually get them feel guilty when they mix work and personal time.

It comes down to a lack of clarity and cultural expectations. When organizations don’t create specific policies, employees struggle to understand their boundaries, leading to uneasiness.

It might seem counterintuitive to create rigid rules around flexibility. After all, isn’t the lack of structure what these employees crave? Not exactly.

Imagine the stress you might feel when you’re running a few minutes late, even though your start time is “flexible.” Or when you miss a phone call during normal business hours because you decided to take a quick break. Or when you have to leave early because your son gets sick. 

That’s not flexibility. That’s what sociologist Phyllis Moen calls “the mother-may-I approach,” which holds people back from using their flexible options.

What the research says

Moen and her co-researcher Erin Kelly recently published the results of a radical study. They randomly assigned half the employees in the tech department to a control group that was only given flexibility based on their managers’ discretion. The other half became part of an experimental group to pilot a new initiative of true flexibility. They had their manager’s full support to work wherever and whenever they wanted, as long as they met all their goals and deadlines.

The end result? The truly flexible experimental group started sleeping better, experienced less stress and felt much happier than the control group whose flexibility was at the manager’s discretion. And to the company’s delight, they met their goals just as much as the control group.

By connecting options for work-life flexibility to performance, Moen and Kelly demonstrated how a company can roll out efficient flexibility options that relieve guilt — and still get results.

Craving more about flexibility guilt? Be sure to check back next week as we continue the discussion on work-life flexibility.