THE BLOG
02/26/2014 02:29 pm ET | Updated Apr 28, 2014

Flexible Work Arrangements: Priceless Perk or Career Killer?

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More than 50 percent of American workers take advantage of flexible work arrangements offered by their employers. And why not, right? Flex-work is a necessity for most people, not just working parents who often have doctor and school appointments to juggle around work meetings.

And besides, how else is the laundry going to get done if not between sending emails and doing conference calls from your home office?

I seriously don't know how workers who don't have some flexibility in their schedules manage. At this point in my career, I wouldn't take a position with a company that didn't offer some kind of flexible work arrangement.

And yet, I rarely take advantage of all flexibility I have.

'The mommy track'

I'm usually in the office during typical work hours. My schedule is tight: I don't have a lot of wiggle room around my in-office hours. That's generally the case with working parents. Our days are based around our kids' school schedules and whatever network of childcare we patch together to work a full day.

I could have a more flexible schedule, with a day dedicated to working from home. I could make the case that some days I have to leave at 3 p.m. to pick up my daughter from school. I don't, of course, mostly because I'd still have to finish work from home in the evenings.

Juggling both at home on a regular basis doesn't work for me.

Another reason I like being in the office: face time. I'd be kidding myself if I thought the politics of putting in face time didn't matter. It does. I realize a lot depends on what you do for a living, but in most jobs, you need to be there and be seen being there.

Perhaps the biggest reason I don't take advantage of flex-work as much as I'd like to is my concern about being put on "the mommy track" -- the track that tells your colleagues you're not someone they can count on because your messy, chocolate milk-stained life is just too chaotic. You could be juggling afternoon carpool and managing a team of 20 without breaking a sweat, but some of your colleagues will still be wondering if you're really there when you're working from home. Even if you are very present on email and conference calls, to some, you're not really there unless you're there.

A few moms I've worked with have been able to make flexible arrangements work for them without hurting their careers. It helps if you're already established in your career when you're trying to pull this off. More often, though, your colleagues' perceptions of you and your value will change the more your kids' needs interfere with a typical work day.

'Mums the word'

I once had a manager who left work almost every day at 3 p.m. to pick up her kids from school -- and then usually worked from home the rest of the day. The reason she made it work for her -- aside from being far enough along in her career to escape being "mommified" -- is that she never talked about why she was leaving early. We all knew, but she never actually said it. Her flexible schedule didn't seem to set her back at all. She was there enough to have all-important face time, but was absent when she needed to take care of family business.

A lot of women, including myself, feel like they need to give excuses or explain why they're doing what they're doing. When it comes to why you need flex-work, I actually think it's better to say less about the reasons why and be selective about whom you tell. Unless someone demands an explanation, you really don't need to give much detail at all. And when you do, keep it short. Your manager doesn't need to know you're having a mammogram next Thursday or that your kid's therapist only sees clients on Tuesdays before noon.

The less you say about the messy details, the more you control your own story. That way you can have your flex-work schedule, and your mammogram, and get the laundry done.

This post was originally published on the author's blog, Not Those Kennedys.