Dispatches from the Women's Networking Circuit: Temporal Flexibility

Spela Trefalt and Emily Heaphy spoke about "temporal flexibility" or how working people can have some control over their time, so they can manage the many demands at work and at home. Both presenters are wives, mothers, and full-time academics, so they live this every day.

They talked with a group of consultants about work/life balance, and discovered that what they really want is the ability to adjust their schedules to accommodate their needs and interests outside of work. That could look like compressed work weeks, shifted work hours, or even ad hoc accommodations. Part time work wouldn't be considered temporal flexibility.

Temporal flexibility (TF) is desirable, but it also carries negative consequences. Raising issues related to TF is risky both in terms of relationship and reputation. The expectation is that professionals will always be available, that they will prioritize work over everything else, so talking about TF goes against that expectation.

Research suggests that there are some factors that make it easier to negotiate for TF, and that help prevent people from experiencing negative consequences of using it:

  • If the person is seen as taking initiative in general
  • If the manager perceives that the person is using TF in order to be more productive, rather than for personal (work/life management) reasons
  • If the person is paired with a powerful person when they originally come into the organization, so they build social capital with powerful people
  • If the person has a trusting relationship with their manager

Trefalt and Heaphy are interested in the question of how people can position themselves to be successful in negotiating for TF. Their model isn't finalized, but my takeaways were as follows:

  • If a supervisor has trust in their subordinates, the supervisor is more likely to take advantage of TF because they trust that the work will be done properly in their absence
  • If a supervisor is good at project management, their subordinates are more likely to be able to take advantage of TF. Good project management means the supervisor is able to deliver a good product, manage the client expectations, and create a work environment with manageable stress levels, which includes creating a safe environment for people to share their work/life priorities.
  • On the flip side, if the subordinate doesn't work for someone who can manage effectively, it is almost impossible to create TF.

This talk was part of the Simmons Center For Gender in Organizations Distinguished Speaker Series.