The Counterintuitive, Competitive Advantage: Men with Workplace Flexibility

In a refreshing and long overdue shift, men's desire for flexibility has come to the forefront this year, proving that this is not just a women's issue.
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Today our organization joins many others in celebrating National Flexibility Day. At first, it may sound counterintuitive for businesses to acknowledge worker and workplace flexibility in a marketplace marked by competition, complexity and globalization. In reality, giving professionals flexibility pays dividends for employers. Today, Working Mother Research Institute (WMRI) releases research we sponsored that validates this--but with an important twist. This flexibility report focuses on men.

In a refreshing and long overdue shift, men's desire for flexibility has come to the forefront this year, proving that this is not just a women's issue. First, many will recall that New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy was roundly criticized by two radio hosts after he missed opening day for the birth of his first child. The media firestorm knocked the attention about paternity leave out of the park, as I mentioned in my previous blog post.

Then this summer, MongoDB's former CEO Max Schireson announced his resignation after grappling with the dual demands of being a dad at the top. Despite the (likely unwanted) attention a woman would get in this situation, he was never really asked about the challenge. Moving forward, he suggests he'll still stay involved in the organization he loves, but working "'normal full time' and not 'crazy full time.'"

As employers, we need to make sure that as men become increasingly open about their desire for flexibility, it doesn't take a headline-making move to get it. In "How Men Flex: The Working Mother Report," the findings reveal that while about eight in 10 men surveyed (79%) feel comfortable using flexibility, about a quarter (26%) say their employer could support flexibility, but doesn't. This suggests that individuals are in a good place, but that some organizations are lagging behind--and those businesses may be doing so to their own detriment.

In fact, WMRI evaluated 11 different categories of work-life satisfaction metrics and found there's a wide gap between men whose employer encourages flexibility compared with those who don't.

For example, men with greater flexibility in their work schedules reported:
  • greater satisfaction with spousal/partner support (71% vs. 53%);
  • they were more likely to believe that their opinion at work is valued (76% vs. 48%);
  • they were happier with their compensation (68% vs. 40%);
  • a greater sense of respect in the workplace (81% vs. 55%);
  • a stronger opportunity to develop their skills (74% vs. 48%); and
  • they were more satisfied with their career prospects (72% vs. 40%).

Within our organization and elsewhere, we're also seeing that men prefer to have more control when it comes to overnight travel. More than half of working dads (54%) and nearly half of all men without kids (47%) surveyed said they would reject a job offer requiring frequent overnight travel.

Other recent research we've sponsored also reinforces the significance of flexibility to fathers, in particular. The Boston College Center for Work & Family (BCCWF) paternity leave study titled, The New Dad: Take Your Leave, finds that nearly all fathers surveyed (95%) rated workplace flexibility as important to their ongoing ability to balance work and family needs, with 79% reporting that flexibility is very or extremely important to them.

As for paternity leave itself, 99% of the men in the New Dad study believed that employers should offer paid paternity leave. Similar to wanting control over overnight travel, having access to this benefit is a talent attraction issue. Almost 90% (89%) of the dads surveyed by BCCWF said paid paternity leave is important to them when considering an employer, with 60% rating it as very or extremely important.

The report also found this to be particularly true for millennials. This matters significantly to a business like ours where about two-thirds of our professionals are Gen Y--trending ahead of the roughly one-third of professionals who are Gen Y in the US workforce in general.

Fathers from the millennial generation overwhelmingly said it is important for employers to provide paid paternity or paid parental leave, with 93% saying it was extremely, very or somewhat important, compared with Gen X (88%) and Boomers (77%). The corporate benchmarking study also found that millennials' interest in, and utilization of, paternity leave is high.

It's gratifying to see that men are not only included in conversations about flexibility today--they are also the subject of them. Yet it's imperative to remember that flexibility still matters to others: women, business leaders, children and beyond.

Here are just a couple of proof points from our own business:
  • We kicked our flexibility efforts into high gear in the 1990s, when we found that women in the US were leaving at a rate that was 10-15 percentage points higher than men. We began working to make sure we had a flexible culture where everyone could thrive professionally. Today we have nearly closed the retention gender gap, as our Global Chairman and CEO recently shared in a blog post.
  • Flexibility is cost effective: we find it costs between 1.5 and 2 times an employee's salary to replace/rehire someone for a position.

As we celebrate both National Flexibility Day today--and National Work and Family Month in October--let's hope that more business leaders will recognize that workplace flexibility is not a burden or a gender issue. It is a competitive advantage, a gender equalizer and an absolutely essential offering in a modern workplace.

EY refers to the global organization, and may refer to one or more, of the member firms of Ernst & Young Global Limited, each of which is a separate legal entity. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of EY.

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