Foundations of knowledge and professional skills
Leslie, L.M., Park, T-Y., Mhng, S.A. and Flaherty Manchester, C. 2012. Flexible work practices: a source of career premiums or penalties? Academy of Management Journal, 55(6), p. 1407-1428.
In this article, research was conducted to develop a theory regarding the use of flexible work practices (FWP) on career success of employees. Along with this, managers understand the use of FWP as a signal of high or low commitment of employees towards the organization. In turn, the employee commitment shapes the career success of employees. In this research, field and laboratory research studies were conducted that support the hypothesis related to FWP results as career premiums when employees are high committed and desire to increase productivity. But the research supports other hypothesis also that is related to FWP as career penalties when employees are low committed and desire to personal life accommodation.
In this article, the research is based on “How flexible work practices affect employees’ career success”. For this, managers’ perception about the use of FWP by employees and their commitment for organizations and personal life were considered. It is because, managers’ perception about employees’ commitment shape the career success of employees. FWP is beneficial for both employees and organizations. For employees, FWP is related with high job satisfaction and low levels of job stress while for organizations, FWP is helpful for attracting and retaining skilled and talented employees in the organization because they are highly desired by the organization. At the same time, other researchers found that FWP has negative impact on wage growth and career success of employees because they perceived less commitment towards the organization and performance.
According to Carlson (2005), employees with flexible work practices are more engaged in their jobs and more committed towards the organization, so, workplace flexibility has direct impact on productivity. At the same time, it is argued by Yang (2009) with the statement that working from home or flexible work practices make difficult for managers to know their employees. In the workload situation, stretching work hours show the commitment of employees that is not possible in telecommute or work from home facility.
It is identified that in present flexible work practices are increased in the organizations to control the work of employees. In a study of American organizations, it is found that 79% companies provide flexible timings to employees, 50% companies provide work from home facility, 38% companies provides completing a week’s work in fewer days than a week, 29% companies offer facility that two employees can complete a work and 27% offer part time work facility for their employees. Along with this, flexible work practices are beneficial for employees and organizations. Through this, employees can receive high level of job satisfaction and low level of work stress. On the other hand, organizations can get benefit of FWP in terms of attraction and retention of high skilled employees for long term in the organizations with flexible working conditions.
At the same time, FWP influence the career success of employees in terms of salary increment, promotion and designation in the organization. FWP has both positive and negative impact on the career success of employees. Various researchers found that FWP provide career premiums for employees because in flexible working environment, employee can earn higher salaries according to their potential and commitment (Manchester, Leslie and Kramer, 2010). In contrast of this, other researchers found that flexible work practices make less committed to employees for the organization that influence their career also. In a study for working mothers in flexible work practices, it is found that FWP has negative effect on their salaries growth and they received career penalties. It means, flexible work practices are main reason of career premiums and career penalties.
It is identified that FWP use and career success have relationship. There are different motives of employees to use flexible work practices such as increased work productivity and personal life accommodation. The employees who motivate to serve for organizations and desire to increase productivity more favorably achieve the career success through flexible work practices rather than employees who have self-serving motives and desire for personal life accommodation. So, it is found that managers interpret that employees who use FWP to increase productivity shows high commitment towards the organization while the employees who use FWP for personal life accommodation shows low commitment towards the organization. Thus, the perception of managers about employees’ commitment results career success of employees because managers increase pay scales, give promotions and other rewards to employees according to their performance and productivity.
In this article, researchers have developed two different opinions regarding the use of FWP and career success of employees. One group of researchers support that FWP provides facility for employees to increase their performance and get success in their careers. Employees who work from home or outside of the office face few problems in starting but they manage those problems accordingly to increase their productivity. Along with this, these employees can adjust their working hours with the organizational needs and their suitability to work and give maximum output.
So, it is found that employees who use flexible work practices such as telecommuting, flexible time schedules and compressed work perform well as compare to those who don’t avail these flexible work practices. Thus, there is a positive linkage between FWP and performance of employees that results in career success. It is because employees with good or high performance receive higher ranks in the organizations. Along with this, employees who work in flexible work schedules earn higher salaries as compare to those employees who don’t use FWP.
On the other hand, there is another group of researchers that have different opinion regarding the use of FWP in the organizations. This group suggests that the results of flexible work practices are negative in the organizations and for career success of employees. With the help of signaling theory, managers can observe the behavior of employees including their organizational commitment that is hard to observe. Through signaling theory, managers interpret that employees who use flexible work practices for their personal life responsibilities have low commitment towards the organization. As a result, managers punish them by rejecting their pay raises, promotions and other career related rewards. So, working mothers with flexible schedules and telecommuting have negative career success and wage growth.
In conclusion, this research indicates that FWP has both positive and negative influence on the career success of employees. The above two views are based on some assumptions regarding the use of FWP by employees. According to the first view, employees use FWP to increase their productivity while the second view suggests that they use FWP to their personal life accommodation (Graves, Ohlott and Ruderman, 2007). So, these different assumptions influence the perception of managers regarding the commitment of employees for organization that results in pay raises, promotions and other career related rewards for employees. Thus, the right perception or attributions of managers regarding the use of FWP by employees may help the managers to give career premiums or penalties for employees.
FWP attributions: Attribution theory is related with the generation of causal explanations for other’s behavior and same behavior may be occurred to different causes. In general, people don’t always make attributions for other’s behavior but the behavior of others is unexpected than attributions are developed (Sullivan and Lewis, 2001). In this, the use of FWP is an unexpected workplace behavior that is not common in all organizations for all employees. Researchers have identified two types of attributions for employees’ behavior. In the first attributions, employee behavior is motivated by desire to help the organization and in the second attributions; employee behavior is motivated by desire to help the self regardless of organization.
With the help of these attributions, managers develop positive impression of employees when their behavior is motivated to help the organization but managers perceive negative impression of employees when their behavior is motivated to help themselves (Allen, Russell and Rush, 1994). Thus, attribution theory suggests that FWP have different results that are based on the managers’ attributions for the use of FWP by employees like organization serving or self-serving.
Further, these attributions were investigated with the help of organization serving FWP attributions, work productivity and self-serving FWP attribution and personal life accommodation. In the productivity attribution, it is believed that employees are used FWP to increase their work performance and efficiency through developing their work schedules according to business needs (Michel, Kotrba, Mitchelson, Clark and Baltes, 2011). On the other hand, in personal life attributions, employees use FWPs to complete their activities that are not related with the work or organizational needs such as making schedule according to child care, family care etc. So, it is concluded that productivity and personal life accommodation are two important motives that motivate employees to use FWP.
The use of FWP for employees has affective organizational commitment that depends on managers FWP attributions. The use of FWP has positive views when managers attribute FWP use as organization serving motive and the desire to increase productivity. When the managers believed that employees use FWP to increase productivity, then it is signal that employee is taking additional steps to increase its contributions in the organization (Solinger, van Olffen and Roe, 2008). Thus, managers interpret those employees as highly committed employees that have desire to increase productivity. At the same time, when managers don’t make productivity attributions, then the uses of FWP don’t have positive impact on commitment of employees.
Contrast to this, the use of FWP has negative impact for perceived commitment when managers attribute FWP use as self-serving motive and desire for personal life attributions. When a manager makes personal life attributions for an employee to the use of FWP, then the manager perceived that employee is invested in his or her personal life (Rothbard, Phillips and Dumas, 2005). The investment of valuable resources such as time and energy in personal life is problematic for organizations. So, the managers assume that employees who use FWP for personal life causes have less commitment for the organization and they are in violation of the ideal worker norm. At the same time, when managers don’t make personal life attributions, the use of FWP has negative impact on perceived commitment.
The perceived employee commitment shapes the career success of employees. Highly committed employees are beneficial for the organization because of their devotion and loyalty and managers returns employees in terms of career related rewards and other benefits such as pay raises, promotions and other rewards (Allen, and Russell, 1999). Thus, the perception of managers regarding employees’ commitment is positively related with the career success of employees. Along with this, perceived commitment increases the career outcomes and employee achieve higher level of career success when they are viewed positively by managers.
Career success is important function of the job behavior of employees including their performance. Strong performer employees are perceived as highly committed and performance is the third variable that influences the perceived commitment on career success (Thompson and Hastie, 1990). In conclusion, the effect of employees’ use of FWP and perceived commitment is dependent on the managers’ FWP attributions and perceived commitment that shapes the career success of employees. Along with this, the perceived commitment works as a mediator between the effects of FWP use and attributions of career success.
Research Design and data collection methods
In this research, two research studies were conducted to test the research question: field study and laboratory experiment. In the first field study, researchers conducted a field study for Fortune 500 organizations to collect data related to FWP use, FWP attributions, commitment and career rewards. Along with this, researchers gathered data related to salary, job level and performance ratings. In the second research study, researchers used an experimental design to test the hypothesis. They conducted an organizational simulation in that participants assumed as a manager in a firm and evaluated an employee who was able to get promotion. They manipulated the employee’s use of FWP, flexible scheduling and attributions of FWP use. After that, participants rated their perceptions of the employee’s commitment and recommended the career related rewards for employee.
Field study method
In this method, researchers sent an online survey to 5579 employees who belong to one group among two: industry issues and networking. They received response from 1834 employees; it means the response rate is 33%. After that, they sent online survey to direct managers of employees to report on their employees. If a manager supervised more than three employees, they selected three employees randomly for giving report because no manager completed more than three surveys. So, out of 1834 responses, 1470 surveys sent to managers. Among that, managers responded for 566 surveys. The researchers eliminated missing data surveys that resulted 482 matched employee-manager pairs.
In the final sample, 482 employees and 366 managers are included (29% managers rated more than one employee). Among that, 90% employees were white and 59% employees were female. The average age of all employees was 44.49years. Along with this, 87% managers were white and 34% were female. The average age of managers was 48.03 years. The employee-manager pair worked in various functions such as product development, information technology, engineering, quality, manufacturing and sales and marketing. Among all employees, 77% employees had professional jobs such as paralegal, customer service representative, analyst etc and 23% management jobs such as auditing manager, training manager, marketing manager and many more. Among the managers 11 held professional jobs while 89% held management jobs.
For this study, 156 participants were recruited from a university and employees or business classes. In this sample, 47% female, 69% white, 24% Asian, 3% black, and 1 % Hispanic and the average age was 27.41 years of this group. 86% participants were employed 48% had experience working as a manager. The majority of the participants were students. Among that 51% graduates, 37% undergraduates and 12% were non-students. They all received $10 for the research study that took around 20 minutes of them.
In this research method, participants were invited to participate in a study and assume the role of manager in a consulting firm and evaluate an employee who is able for promotion. The participants received information about employee through memo, employee’s resume, recent performance appraisal and HR file. It was conveyed that employee was mid 30s, had ten years of work experience and had 4.4 performance rating. The HR file included various details such as date of hire, position etc. After reviewing this information, participants developed perceived commitment and recommended rewards for employees as well as completed manipulation checks and demographic measures.
The field study provides results that the relationship between FWP use and career success is dependent on the managers’ FWP attributions. Managers’ perceived FWP users as more committed than employees who don’t use FWP, but only when employees are used FWP to a desire to increase productivity. Along with this, perceived commitment was positively related to career success, and it also mediated the combined effects of FWP use and productivity attributions on career success (Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Lee and Podsakoff, 2003). At the same time, these results emerged when researchers assumed the control of self-reported commitment and job performance of employees. Thus, the effects of FWP use were associated with only managers’ perception and employees’ attitudes and behaviors were negligible.
On the other hand, when managers made personal life FWP attributions, the perceived commitment of FWP users and nonusers were same. It is possible because FWP use is not perceived as a signal of low commitment when managers make personal life attributions. In the study, it is found that 65% management agreed that employees used FWP for personal life causes and managers made more personal life attributions than productivity attributions. Along with this, it is found that FWP use for personal life accommodation does not the reason of career penalties when personal life attributions are same but when the personal life attributions are different, this behavior of employees may be the reason of career penalties. This study had various strengths such as large sample size, data from matched employee-manager pairs and objective indicators of career success.
The laboratory experiment study provides support for this research question and theoretical framework. FWP use and attributions had a causal effect on perceived commitment. The users of FWP were perceived as more committed than nonusers of FWP in the condition when FWP was used a desire to increase work productivity. At the same time, FWP users were perceived as less committed than FWP nonusers when they use FWP for personal life accommodation (Glass, 2004). Along with this, perceived commitment was positively related to career rewards and recommendations that is an indicator of career success. Further, the managers’ FWP attributions are positively related with the FWP use and career success.
From the both studies, it is found that the role of personal life attributions in the laboratory that are not found in the field study. The results suggest that flexible work practices can be a reason of career penalties when managers make personal life FWP attributions that found in laboratory study but that the penalty may not occur in all settings that found in field results. It is possible that the findings of personal life attributions were different in the laboratory study that was not found in the field study. It is because the productivity attributions findings were consistent across settings.
So, when personal life attributions have effect in the laboratory study, the particular aspects of the setting developed significant results that are relevant to personal life attributions but not to productivity attributions. Along with this, various field-based studies found that FWPs and other family-friendly policies restrict salary when employees use FWP for personal life responsibilities. Thus, these both studies didn’t give a unique finding but they provide result that FWP can restrict the career success of employees when they it is related to personal life motives or reasons.
In summary, flexible work practices are popular in the workplace of each country especially in the USA, so, it is important to identify the effects of FWP on career success of employees. With the help of field and laboratory studies, it is found that managers interpret the use of FWP by employees as a signal of high commitment when they make productivity attributions for FWP use. In results, perceived commitment of managers has positive influence on employees’ career success. On the other hand, it is found that managers may interpret employees’ FWP use as a signal of low commitment when they make personal life attributions for FWP use, but personal life attributions don’t have negative influence on employees’ career success in all conditions.
Research question: The research question of this research study is interesting, original and significant. In present, every organization provide flexible working environment to their employees to make them comfort and increase their productivity according to their convenience and reduce the excuses at the workplace for poor performance. FWP are beneficial for both organizations and employees because organizations can receive maximum output from employees as well as employees can give their maximum output and fulfill their personal life responsibilities. Sometime, employees feel stress at the organization’s workplace, so, they want to work from other peaceful place. Thus, this research question is related to present scenario in the organization and it is original because FWP influences the career success of employees but it is dependent on the employee’s desire and motives.
Other ways: There are various other ways to explore this research question such as analyzing performance appraisal of employees, interview with employees, interview with managers and review of employee’s performance. With the help of these studies, researchers can identify the performance and actual reasons of employees why they use FWP. But the used methods in this research study also valid and conducted in organizations for collecting real data of employees and managers. But in the laboratory experiment, students were participated that had less experience and knowledge regarding the job of manager.
Results: The results of this study are helpful to answer the research question but both studies provide different results. While laboratory experiment study focuses that personal life attribution affects the commitment and career success of employees while field study suggests that personal life attributions don’t have negative influence on employees’ career success in all conditions. Personal life attributions are not the reason of career penalties. So, there is contradictory between the results of two studies.
Limitations of the study:
There are various limitations of this research study such as:
Use of limited attributions: This research focuses only two major attributions such as personal life and productivity attributions. There are various attributions that may motivate employees to use flexible working practices such as social life, health issues, convenience and others. These attributions can also motivate the employees to use FWP that affect their career success.
Managers’ perception: In this research, the perception of managers about the commitment of employees towards the organizations was used but the perception of managers may be biased because of some lack of knowledge, lack of communication with employees, inter-conflicts, and some personal issues. So, the commitment of employees is not only based on perception of managers. But the commitment of employees should be identified through this performance and output
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