Recent trends toward allowing employees more flexible work schedules to care for children or address other life needs may be backfiring, according to a new study jointly published by Rice University and UC San Diego.
The report examines the relatively new concept of "flexibility stigma" — a perception developed by workers who choose normal schedules who find their colleagues insufficiently committed to their jobs. When this stigma develops, researchers find, it can have a negative effect on the entire workplace, creating lower job satisfaction and higher turnover both among those who utilize flexible scheduling and the workers who keep their 9-to-5 hours.
"Consequences of Flexibility Stigma Among Academic Scientists and Engineers" keeps to a narrow focus on university employees, but its authors say flexibility stigma might exact an even stronger toll on workers in other professional fields, where most employees are likely to have less freedom in scheduling their own hours.
"Workplaces where this bias exists are more likely to have a toxic culture that hurts the entire department, not only in terms of work-life balance but also retention and job satisfaction, which may affect department productivity," co-author Mary Blair-Loy, an associate professor of sociology at UC San Diego and founding director of the
Center for Research on Gender in the Professions tells the university's News Center.
Lead author Erin Cech, an assistant professor of sociology at Rice who is also a UC San Diego graduate, says the costs of turnover when employees abandon academia for other positions can't be overlooked.
"It can be extremely costly – on average, between $90,000 and $400,000 when accounting for lab space and student assistants — for startup packages for new science and engineering faculty," Cech told News Center. "This suggests that reducing flexibility stigma would not only be good for workers, but good for the bottom line as well."
The research was conducted as part of a larger National Science Foundation project examining gender and race in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.