Men, It’s Time to Come Out of the “Flexibility” Closet!

It’s an “Everyone” Issue, So Everyone Needs to Participate in the Conversation

I want to sit down with men and explain why the time has come for them to stop hiding in the “flexibility” closet. They are an important voice. And they are a necessary voice if we, as a culture, are going to move issue of work+life flexibility out of the “mommy” category and recognize that it’s an “everyone” issue in the 24/7 work reality of the 21st Century.
Recently I helped a client put together an event showcasing the successful use of flexibility in their organization. The goal was to explain how flexibility can be an effective work+life “fit” management tool for the individual and a strategic management tool for the managers.

They already had a couple of women willing to share their stories. But, something was missing. “Where are the men?” I asked. “We have a number of men who have work+life flexibility but they don’t want to participate,” my client responded. “Why?” I said. “Because they don’t think they have flexibility. They just think it’s the way they work. So we aren’t going to push it.” I was disappointed, but I wasn’t surprised.

People question me, “Why do you keep saying men want flexibility? I’ve never met any man who has it.” Well, I have. Over the years, I’ve met countless men who have creatively combined work and life in a way that met their needs as well as the needs of the business. They often do it through the creative use of technology—not working less, just differently. But they usually don’t call it a “work+life” arrangement. They just see it as “the way they are working,” which is correct on some level. But…they are also afraid.

Here’s what I would say to the men in my client’s company who don’t want to share their experiences, and to every man who ever used flexibility to find their “fit.”

Without Men, Work+Life Flexibility Will Always be a “Mommy Issue”

There is a strong cultural belief that work+life and flexibility are women’s issues. This belief comes from the fact that twenty years ago the first people to take advantage of flexibility offered by companies were mothers with children. They had children at home who needed to be cared for, so they had no choice. They had to get over their fear of asking for flexibility and just do it. That isn’t the case today.

With the increase in globalization and advances in communication technologies (e.g. cell phone and Blackberries) the ability of organizations to place boundaries around work and the rest of life disappearing. Today, everyone, including men, needs to use flexibility to achieve their unique work+life “fit” goals. But it will take us longer to have an open conversation about how individuals and organizations can effectively use flexibility if men aren’t willing to participate.

Flexibility Doesn’t Mean You Are Working Less, Just Differently

So why do most men prefer to call their flexible arrangements, “just the way I work?” I believe they have bought into the myth that having flexibility means you are working less. Or they’re afraid other people are going to think that. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Actually, most people with flexibility don’t want to work less, they just want to work differently. In fact, most people will find their work+life solution by using day-to-day flexibility. And those with a formal arrangement usually only adjust their hours, or telecommute. None of those scenarios involves working any less. Study after study shows individuals with flexibility are more productive. Don’t let the fear that other people will question how hard you’re working keep you from being part of the flexibility conversation. Use your experience to show just the opposite.

It Will Not Hurt Your Career to Admit You Have Flexibility

This is a big fear for everyone, not just men—“If I change my “fit” it will hurt my career.” So you avoid making a change and get burned out, become unproductive, get sick or quit. Or you hide it, hoping no one will notice. Again, the truth is that it hurts your career more not to adjust your “fit” when your realities change. If you have an arrangement that meets your needs as well as the needs of the business, it’s better to share what you’re doing with others so they understand and don’t make incorrect assumptions. In other words, by being part of the conversation, you control the perceptions.

Most Importantly, Young Men Expect Flexibility So You Better Show It to Them (Or, They Won’t Work for You)

This may be the most important reason of all for men to step up and share their experiences. The young men you hope to hire expect to have work+life flexibility. And if they don’t see that it’s possible in a particular organization, then they are less likely to work there. And it’s not going to be enough to see women having it. They need to see other men who look like them.

For the first time this year, even male MBAs say that “work-life balance” is their most important career goal. A study of nearly 5,000 MBA students recently released by Universum Communications found that 48% of the men listed “having a life outside the office as among their three most important goals, topping all others, including building a sound financial base, having influence over corporate strategies, and reaching management levels.” Last year, work-life balance ranked fourth for men in the same survey. (Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/1/06)

What Do You Think–Post a Comment? Guys, do you have work+life flexibility? If yes, are you willing to share your story? If you’re not willing to share, why?

Join me on Tuesday, May 16th for the Next Work+Life “Fit” Blog!