My colleague Rosemina recently uncovered some unnerving research about how bosses really feel about flextime, and I'd like to highlight a dangerous phrase from the linked research: morning bias.
Last week's article focused on a study out of the University of Washington which revealed managers have a clear morning bias. The majority of managers felt that workers who started the workday later were less effective and less conscientious, and that "early birds" were more effective and industrious.
The key in the UW study is how closely the employee and bosses' schedules match. "Night owl" managers were less likely to show morning bias in their evaluations of employees.[Tweet "Work as I work, or you'll pay. Acceptable for bosses offering flextime?"]
Now juxtapose this with earlier research out of the University of Minnesota finding that flextime workers are far more likely to experience slower career advancement or career penalties by prioritizing family first.
The overarching management message to workers becomes clear: Work as I work, or you'll pay.
This message has troubling implications for workers who may have chosen to work at a particular company due to its flextime policies.
What's the incentive to take advantage of a perk if your career will suffer as a result? And what's the point of flextime if your work is judged more harshly when your schedule doesn't match your manager's?
In Defense of Flextime
Not only is morning bias dangerous to work-life alignment, it's wrong. Research shows that flexible work schedules are conducive to productivity, since workers are free to crank out work during their peak focus hours, which may not fall within a traditional workday.
The bosses' attitudes about flextime in the studies above also reflect a larger, outdated belief about productivity in the workplace. The Internet and today's global economy have made it possible -- even easy -- to work completely remotely. (I've made it a priority to do so since 2007.) And considering the multitude of distractions and time-wasters in most offices, frankly, some of us are better off working where we please.
Flextime as a perk isn't broken, but the attitudes of people in positions to dole out flextime need to change.
As a work culture, we need to decide whether to measure effectiveness by objective means (what you do) or subjective means (how someone else perceives what you do). If we can create a meritocratic office culture, we empower workers to find new, novel ways to do their best work.
Without a meritocracy, managers' morning bias will continue to devalue flextime into irrelevance, punishing working parents/caretakers and anyone else who prioritizes life outside of the cubicle.