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Work-Life Flexibility for Whom?

Work-Life Flexibility for Whom? Occupational Status and Work-Life Inequality in Upper, Middle, and Lower Level Jobs

by Ellen Kossek and Brenda Lautsch

from Academy of Management Annals May 2017, annals.2016.0059; DOI: https://doi.org/10.5465/annals.2016.0059

We define work-life flexibility as employment scheduling practices that are designed to give employees greater control over when, where, how much or how continuously work is done. Research has under-examined how work-life flexibility is stratified across occupations. We review how occupational status and flexibility experiences vary and shape work-life inequality, which we identify as a form of job inequality. We investigate the range of definitions, measurement approaches and theorizing regarding work-life flexibility. We find that employees across occupational groups experience different work-life flexibility outcomes from different flexibility types. Providing employee control over scheduling variation (flextime) may benefit lower-level workers the most, yet many are unable to access this flexibility form. Part-time work permitting control over work volume/workload hurts lower-level employees the most (due to involuntary income and benefits loss). Yet these same part-time practices enhance recruitment and retention for upper-level jobs, but harm promotion and pay. Work continuity control (leaves) benefits upper and middle-level employees, but is largely unavailable to lower-level workers. Flexibility to control work location is rarely available for lower-level jobs; but benefits middle and upper-level employees, provided that are able to control separation from work when desired and self-regulate complexity. We offer implications for research and practice.

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