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The Way Men Use Flex is Different

Flexibiilty at work. 

For many years, those three words have been associate with working mothers.

But quietly, working fathers are tapping flex, too.

Rather than making the formal flex arrangements that moms make, dads are using flex under the radar. 

Take Phil Ward, for example. Twice a week, Phil arrives at his Fort Lauderdale law office earlier than usual and plans his day knowing he wants to watch his son’s lacrosse practice at 6:30 p.m. If his wife can’t drop his son off at practice, Ward does some extra maneuvering of his schedule to leave his office earlier. He might work through lunch or log on later in the evening. 

How Men Flex, a newly released report commissioned by Working Mother, shows that seven in 10 men enjoy the ability to influence their schedule and do so without fear of negative consequences. But only 29 percent report that their flexible work schedule is a formal arrangement that repeats week to week. Men “flex” mostly as needed.

To better understand how men are navigating the flexible work and home terrain, the Working Mother Research Institute (WMRI), with support from Ernst & Young, surveyed 2,000 men and women about the impact of “flexing” on their lives. Researchers discovered that working dads, whose spouses now work too, increasingly want and need flexibility in their schedules as they partake in the juggling act once considered the exclusive domain of women.

Jose Hernandez-Solaun, president of a Miami real estate firm, notices that most men who need informal flexibility — in jobs where it is possible — negotiate it on the fly, and get it. Yet, “flex” comes paired with expectations, he says. “If I need you to produce spreadsheets and a presentation by Friday and you ask to leave early because you need to be with your kids, you better produce that information. It’s really about accountability.”

Hernandez-Solaun, a father of young children, says the expectations are two-sided: men expect leeway in their schedule and, in return, bosses expect a certain level of availability — even at home or on vacation. “Ten years ago, that wasn’t the case.”

Going beyond informal flexibility gets trickier for men. Most men fear that formal arrangements — such as a scaled back work schedule, telecommuting from home or leeway in starting times —  create the impression that they aren’t fully committed. 

For men in particular, there is a real fear of the stigma, too. “The No.1 concern … is that men feel the moment they step out or step back, they become dispensable. That’s the greatest insecurity of every man I know,” says Mike Tomas, a South Florida entrepreneur.

Like women, men with access to flexibility are more likely to say they are happy at work, productive, loyal and have good relationships with co-workers. And, those men who do flex — even informally — report higher levels of satisfaction with their relationships with their children.
 
The men surveyed say the ideal mix is working in office but from home occasionally as needed. To do that regularly, requires a workplace that allows that type of schedule. It looks like slowly, with more managers doing the balancing act, we're moving in that direction. Working moms may have paved the way, but men are quickly learning that flexibility has benefits.
 

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