Employer Support for Workplace Flexibility Has Declined Since 2008. Now Get Back to Work.

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
May 6 2014 1:32 PM

Employer Support for Workplace Flexibility Has Declined Since 2008. Now Get Back to Work.

A boss considers your flex-time proposal before declining.

Photo by YURALAITS ALBERT/Shutterstock

In 2010, President Obama held a workplace flexibility forum. The forum included representatives from companies like Dow Corning, JetBlue, and PNC Bank, along with union reps, researchers, and business leaders. At the time, Obama said, “Workplace flexibility isn’t just a women’s issue. It’s an issue that affects the well-being of our families and the success of our businesses.”

Jessica Grose Jessica Grose

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.

Unfortunately, his message didn’t really sink in. According to the 2014 National Study of Employers from the Families and Work Institute, overall there is less support among American employers today for a flexible work culture than there was in 2008. The percentage of employers that allow at least some employees to take a career break for personal or family responsibilities has gone from 64 percent in 2008 to 52 percent in 2014. Additionally, 64 percent of employees say that their supervisors are encouraged to assess them by what they accomplish rather than by face time—that’s down from 71 percent in 2008.


It’s not all bad news. Some forms of flexibility—mostly relating to when workers are allowed to start and end their workdays and telecommuting—have become more common. But the overall picture is disconcerting, since it seems like any openness to a person working fewer hours total even for a short period of time is declining. According to the study’s authors, Kenneth Matos and Ellen Galinsky:

Considering that these changes have occurred primarily during the recession and the three years following its official end in 2009, they may be a result of employers focusing on maintaining smaller workforces and a reduced emphasis on long-term retention of employees interested in taking extended periods away from work.

That employers are not interested in retaining employees who need to take time off from work is playing itself out in pretty soulless ways. It’s not just that employers are less likely to allow sabbaticals, job-sharing, and part-time arrangements than they once were. It’s also that they leave their sick, pregnant employees in the lurch. “Employers have become significantly less likely to provide full pay during leave for maternity-related disability between 2008 and 2014.” Only 9 percent provided full pay, down from 16 percent in 2008.

For all the lip service paid to flexibility, we don’t need more White House forums. We need laws. On the local level, San Francisco and Vermont have passed legislation that allows workers to ask for flexible or predictable work schedules without fear of reprisal. Employers don’t have to grant those requests, of course; the laws merely allow workers to ask for different arrangements. It’s a small move forward, but at least it’s something concrete.



The End of Pregnancy

And the inevitable rise of the artificial womb.

Doctor Tests Positive for Ebola in New York City

How a Company You’ve Never Heard of Took Control of the Entire Porn Industry

The Hot New Strategy for Desperate Democrats

Blame China for everything.

The Questions That Michael Brown’s Autopsies Can’t Answer


Kiev Used to Be an Easygoing Place

Now it’s descending into madness.


Don’t Just Sit There

How to be more productive during your commute.

There Has Never Been a Comic Book Character Like John Constantine

Which Came First, the Word Chicken or the Word Egg?

  News & Politics
The Slate Quiz
Oct. 24 2014 12:10 AM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
Oct. 23 2014 5:53 PM Amazon Investors Suddenly Bearish on Losing Money
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 6:55 PM A Goodfellas Actor Sued The Simpsons for Stealing His Likeness. Does He Have a Case?
Oct. 23 2014 11:47 PM Don’t Just Sit There How to be more productive during your commute.
  Health & Science
Oct. 23 2014 5:42 PM Seriously, Evolution: WTF? Why I love the most awkward, absurd, hacked-together species.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.