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How Men Feel About Flex — Jennifer Owens

Contributor: Morgan Motzel

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Jennifer Owens, Editorial Director of Working Mother magazine and Director of the Working Mother Research Institute, about new findings on working fathers and their need for flex at work.

Stew Friedman: Today, on the first ever National Flex Day, I am pleased to welcome Jennifer Owens, Editorial Director at Working Mother, where they just released today a report on men and flexible work scheduling.

Jennifer, you just completed this study, with Ernst & Young, on working dads – give us the big findings. What are the headlines that people need to know?

Jennifer Owens: Jennifer OwensIt’s been very surprising to find that men are stressed too. They have the same work-life issues. They’re coming at them differently than women because they’re a little more confident about using flex, but they are using it. They say that they feel comfortable using flex, and they’re using flex to help with their family life.

SF: What was most surprising in the study findings?

JO: What’s so surprising is how strong men are about flex. I totally admit it – I think I have a gender bias from being an editor of Working Mother magazine, where we see everything through the “working mother lens”…

SF: Are you going to be changing the name of the magazine to Working Fathers and Mothers? Is that what’s coming?

JO: We’ve always cared a lot about the men in our lives, and the single dads – just men in general – but no. When we fix it for working moms, we can talk about the name change.

SF: You were saying that the big surprise was the intense feeling about the need for flexibility? Or how much men are using it? What was it that really sprung out at you?

JO: We talked to 1,000 men. Three-quarters of the men said they have access to workplace flexibility, and 42% say they’re comfortable with using the flexible support available at their work.

SF: So they don’t feel stigmatized, which we know is a big issue?

JO: It is a big thing, but the study says no. When we’re looking at it from a work-from-home lens, the version of flex that men like is a maximum of two days home per week.  Any more than that and they start to feel like they’re disconnected from the workplace. The interesting thing is that these results mirror everything that women tell us. I think that’s the most surprising thing – a finding that boy, you’re just like us.

SF: That’s interesting. So the dynamics of what makes flex work are very similar for men and women, is that what you’re concluding from this study?

JO:  I am. The rise of dual-income families, the rise in hands-on male parenting hours, the rise in the amount of time men are spending on housekeeping – all of these mean that the rise of work-life stress for men is happening as well. At Working Mother, we are big proponents that flex is the only way – especially for a dual-income family and even a single parent family – for men to be the best parents and the best employees that they can be.

SF: What kind of recommendations flow from this study in terms of what organizations and what working fathers – and working men more generally – should focus on? What are the key priorities for businesses and for working men?

JO: In organizations, I think we have to realize the other half of the coin. Much of the way we talk about work-life comes from a working mother perspective, and then we broaden it to think about people going for advanced degrees or having a specific passion or maybe someone with a chronic illness in their life. We need to think about the men, ask them what they need and include them in the conversation. They’re our work-life allies. This isn’t just a working mother issue, it’s an everybody issue, and while we say that, and we’ve felt that for some time, we can truly see it now.

SF: That’s certainly one of the things we found in a study comparing the Class of 1992 to the Class of 2012 at Wharton which I published last year in a book called Baby Bust: New Choices for Men and Women in Work and Family. We see that among today’s graduates – the people who are now in their twenties – that the men are anticipating conflict between work and life because they want to be more engaged at work, and yet they expect that their spouses are also going to be working full-time. It’s clear that young men and, as in your study, even men across different age groups, are in need of the same kind of flexibility that women have been fighting for for years now.

JO: Definitely. The millennial men are much more involved at home and say that it is a valuable part of their lives to be hands-on parents. We also see men from the Boomer Generation wondering if any of them are ever going to be able to retire—‘how are we using flexibility as we’re thinking towards retirement?’ Flex works at all levels, but it’s interesting that the same questions that the women are having, the men are having too.

SF: What specifically do you recommend for men who are seeking to create more flexibility in their work and in their lives?

JO: I think you need to ask for it. One good way to do this is through a pilot program, which is what we always recommended to the women. Sometimes, if it seems like an open request, it can frighten your manager into thinking you’ll never come back in the office. I think a, “Hey let me try this for 30 days or 60 days, and after that, we can check to see how it’s doing,” often works much better. But you do need to ask for it. Other studies have found that men are actually more apt to get approval for their flex requests than women are.

SF: So it might be easier for men to ask, but you just do have to ask and be unafraid. The important point you mentioned which I want to underscore is the idea of setting it up as a temporary experiment. That tends to reduce resistance and make it easier for people in the organization to get on board.

JO: Exactly. First you must prove it can work.

Jennifer Owens is the Editorial Director of Working Mother magazine and the Director of the Working Mother Research Institute. She is an award-winning journalist who has been featured in outlets such as The New York Times, CNN, Fox Business News, and USA Today. For more information on her work, visit the Working Mother online at www.workingmother.com, or follow her on Twitter @working_mother.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Morgan MotzelMorgan Motzel is an undergraduate senior in the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business at Penn focusing on Management and Latin America


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