Skip to main content

How to banish flextime resentment

By Alicia Bassuk, Special to CNN
updated 3:13 PM EDT, Tue October 2, 2012
Alicia Bassuk says tension between workers with kids and workers without could be avoided by focusing on contribution, not face time
Alicia Bassuk says tension between workers with kids and workers without could be avoided by focusing on contribution, not face time
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Alicia Bassuk: Article reports tension between workers with children and those without
  • She says it shouldn't be so; workplaces that value contribution over face time do better
  • She says working parents often more efficient; nonparents go out, sometimes not available
  • Bassuk: Companies' with enlightened view about flextime, remove resnetment as an issue

Editor's note: Alicia Bassuk is an executive coach, advisor and agent to senior leaders internationally with the management and leadership firm Ubica. This article was written in association with The Op-Ed Project.

(CNN) -- Is there a hidden war going on in the workplace between employees with children and employees without?

In a recent New York Times article about flextime ("When the Work-Life Scales Are Unequal"), child-free workers are pitted against those who are parents, haggling over who does more work.

Certainly, the tensions are real. But what this article and much popular debate around flextime misses is that when appropriately implemented, co-workers benefit from the greater contributions, not to mention healthier lifestyles, that flextime affords. It's time to move beyond overly simplistic analysis that sets people against each other at work.

Alicia Bassuk
Alicia Bassuk

As an executive coach, adviser and confidante to senior executives across many industries, I've been working with this issue for more than 15 years and have heard all sides. Those without children will find many reasons to complain about work, including having to pick up slack for colleagues with children. But the reverse is true, too: While working parents are worrying about getting to their kids' activities, they complain about the preoccupation their child-free colleagues have with dating, their frequenting of happy hours, their unavailability to answer calls at night while they are out socializing and the unproductive mornings that follow as they try to shake their hangovers.

In my experience, much of the tension among employees with children and those without children is caused by varying levels of availability.

Who would think that parents with children are often more accessible and more reliable than those without?

On a recent Friday at 5:15 p.m., I went to meet a friend at her Midtown Manhattan office, where she works as a psychologist at the Columbia University Medical Center. The office was practically empty. She and her colleague were the only therapists, out of 30, who were there after 5 p.m. They are among the few therapists on staff with toddlers at home.

Just the night before, I met a client in Tribeca for dinner, a senior executive at JPMorganChase, no kids. She told me that she was taking this Friday off to spend more time with her parents in their country home. These are not the scenarios that generally come to mind when you think of stereotypical workers with and without children.

Marissa Mayer's maternity leave mayhem
Can working moms 'have it all'?

That is because the flextime issue has long been framed as a zero sum game in which those with kids win and those without kids lose. This relies on old-school ways of thinking about how work gets done.

If face time were the only measure of contributions in the workplace, then perhaps it would seem that child-free workers were left holding the bag. But it's not. Efficiency trumps face time almost every time in white collar jobs, and even a good portion of blue collar jobs.

The majority of senior managers I have worked with tell me that parents learn time and people management skills that make them more effective managers at work. Because there is more at stake when one's paycheck is providing for many rather than one, there is a sense of urgency in keeping a job and being promoted rather than a sense of entitlement about perks and promotion.

What the problem often comes down to is superficial appearances: It may look like working parents are getting a slide when they leave to take care of the family.

And that is because working parents and child-free workers alike assume we need to disclose more than we really do. In these matters transparency is overrated. My recommendation is simple: don't ask, don't tell. When a worker has to leave the office, he or she should simply state, "I have to leave at x time because I have an event/appointment/commitment."

The caveat here is that this only works for jobs that don't require physical presence in a particular location, in office cultures in which total contribution is measured and in workplaces in which employees are present and available to take calls 90% of the time between 9-5 and often beyond.

Ultimately every company wants employees who look in the mirror each morning and ask, "Am I working as smart as I can?"

At companies such as IDEO, a global design company, they've refined this model. On a tour of the company this summer, I learned that a typical new project launch commences with each team member describing their ideal work schedule, and the whole team is expected to morph into a schedule that goes partway to meet everyone's scheduling needs.

Not only is this a successful model, but company's managers tells me they find that employees are more productive when they work out their customized schedules.

They also remain at the company longer, accept lower compensation because of the benefits in work/life balance and have reduced tension with co-workers around issues of fairness in team contributions. Similarly, employees at the Chicago Web-app company 37 Signals are part of a results-focused and mostly virtual environment in which each person determines his or her schedule with consideration to teammates needs and is judged by the results.

Whether it's toddlers or happy hours that motivate a worker's desire to work more flexibly, the reasons don't matter as long as the worker gets the job done. If we don't start taking a more enlightened and complex view when it comes to our feelings about co-workers, the conversation around flextime will quickly descend into blame and resentment, which ultimately affects not only morale and culture but also the bottom line.

We need to flex our minds when we think about who partakes, who loses and who gains from workplace attitudes that allow for making judgments about co-workers not only at work but outside of work, too.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Alicia Bassuk.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Mary Allen says because of new research and her own therapy, she no longer carries around the fear of her mother, which had turned into a generalized fear of everything
updated 3:59 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Gilbert Gottfried says the comedian was most at home on the comedy club stage, where he was generous to his fellow stand-up performers
updated 4:54 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Iris Baez, whose son was killed by an illegal police chokehold, says there must be zero tolerance for police who fatally shoot or otherwise kill unarmed people such as Michael Brown
updated 8:46 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Maria Cardona says as he seeks a path to the presidency, the Kentucky Senator is running from his past stated positions. But voters are not stupid--and they know how to use the internet
updated 10:19 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Gene Seymour says the shock at the actor and comedian's death comes from its utter implausibility. For many of us over the last 40 years or so, Robin Williams was an irresistible force of nature that nothing could stop.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Soledad O'Brien says the story of two veterans told in a documentary airing on CNN shows the challenges resulting from post-traumatic stress
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT