THE BLOG
04/28/2014 11:47 am ET Updated Jun 28, 2014

"What About the Men? They Need Life Outside of Work, Too"

When New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy missed the season's first two games for the birth of his first child, he and his wife faced something they likely weren't expecting: A media firestorm that pitted men's work responsibilities against their family lives. One radio host even proclaimed that Murphy's wife should have had a C-section, so he wouldn't miss opening day. The stigma some men face in working flexibly to juggle personal and professional goals suddenly stepped right up to the plate.

Thankfully, EY's male professionals increasingly speak up about the importance of flexibility, whether they are married or single, with or without children. Many are high achieving, progressive and aspire to have it all. While they have different life demands, they all want a dynamic career and a meaningful life outside of work. Yet, in today's workplaces, the conversation about flexibility largely centers only on women. So, we need to ask "What about the men?"

Consider this:

  • Men's job demands have climbed, according to a Families and Work Institute study, The New Male Mystique. Perceptions of having to work very fast and hard have increased. Technology has blurred the boundaries between work and non-work. In fact, 41 percent of men say they are contacted at least once a week or more by colleagues outside of normal working hours. This creates a longer workday than ever before and 54 percent of men surveyed indicated they'd prefer to work fewer hours.
  • At the same time, however, job security has declined. According to data from the U.S. Department of Labor, median weekly earnings of men age 25 and older employed full-time in both wage and salaried jobs have actually declined slightly, adjusted for inflation. Men are working harder for less take-home money.
  • Additionally, with more dual career households, men are taking on added family responsibilities. Furthermore, a Pew study shows that for men and women of all ages, being a good parent and having a successful marriage continue to rank significantly higher among their priorities than career success.

In short, the workplace is changing and men experience many of the same work-life conflicts as women.

Why is this a problem? Increasingly, if men don't get the day-to-day flexibility they need, research shows they will walk away from their jobs. And they're more likely to do so than women, according to EY's recent Generations survey, which surveyed 1,200 non-EY professionals about the management skills of each generation and the workplace perks they value most. The survey found that Gen X men (40 percent) were most likely to leave if flexibility was not offered, followed by Gen X women (37 percent), Gen Y men (36 percent) and Gen Y women (30 percent).

But here's the kicker -- even when it's offered, men may not take full advantage of flexibility. Or, if they do, they may not feel comfortable saying so because of a perceived backlash.

Are we asking more of men?

The New Male Mystique argues that American workplaces still favor men who work full time or overtime, without career interruptions. Men know this, but, when corporate culture discourages men from using either formal (e.g., formalized reduced schedules) or informal (e.g., working remotely periodically) flexibility, they don't stop being flexible. They just go underground.

The Boston College Center for Work & Family study, The New Dad: A Work (and Life) in Progress, found that more than 60 percent of fathers reported using informal flex-time, compared to just over 10 percent who had a formal arrangement. Similarly, about 50 percent reported working from home informally, while only 10 percent did so officially.

However, we know that formal and informal flexibility arrangements improve career satisfaction for men. And we know flexibility is important to keep everyone -- particularly Millennials -- engaged and successful. In fact, the EY Generations survey found that flexibility is the top non-cash perk among all generations.

So, what can we do? We still have a business to run!

There are several ways to help change entrenched societal attitudes to foster a culture of flexibility for all:

  • Be transparent. Men need to be open about their need for and use of flexibility, both informal and formal. When you know your colleague is using flexibility, it's easier to feel comfortable using it yourself. Ensure your organization has appropriate forums representing many demographics where both women and men can talk to one another, compare notes and give support.
  • Model flexibility at all levels, including leadership. Senior male leaders need to be modeling and talking about flexibility. Globalization of companies and the need to work across time zones will continue to expand. Permitted brief interruptions throughout the work day will be necessary for sustainability, as will flexible start and end times to blend life and work.
  • Establish informal and formal coaching, mentoring and parental leave programs. Help people understand that needs are very individualized and managers must become comfortable with encouraging flexibility options for personal and community needs beyond family obligations. Embracing a spirit of trust will help. Companies should also consider providing formal benefits to men, such as paid paternity leave (our men actually take leave!).
  • Use technology. Take advantage of smartphones and mobile broadband, remote access services, and video and audio conferencing to work flexibly. But at the same time, make it clear within your organization that you don't expect people to be working all the time, everywhere.
  • Encourage each other to share modern ideas about working flexibly. Flexibility isn't necessarily about working less; it's about finding smart ways to accomplish personal and professional goals. Earlier in my career I took my vacation on Fridays, rather than in larger blocks of time, to meet my toddler's needs -- and my manager preferred it.

Offering flexibility for women and men is one thing, changing a cultural norm to ensure flexibility gets used, is another. If we can develop a culture that encourages men to leverage flexibility and be more transparent about how they do it, it will create a virtuous circle benefitting men, women and the organization.