The flex trap – it’s not a women only perk

by Apr 2, 2024

The Flex Trap

The reality is that men and women see flexibility as a ‘top 3’ employee benefit and critical to their company’s success


We are starting to see a shift from some major organisations for a return to the office. Whether as posited by Workplace Futrist Andy Spence,  this is in response to the projected commercial real estate debt when the sh*t is expected to hit the proverbial fan in 2025. Or a bout of what he calls Corporate Peacocking with male leaders asserting themselves for the sake of it, we don’t know yet.

We are also seeing announcements that if employees want a promotion they need to get back to the office. Or used as a cover for “stealth layoffs” where those that don’t comply with RTO demands thos people will get laid off.

What it has brought about is outrage from those claiming that women will be the demographic this action hits the hardest.  However, one of the biggest myths of all is the one that suggests it’s mostly women who want – and benefit from – flexible work

The reality is that men and women see flexibility as a ‘top 3’ employee benefit and critical to their company’s success

Research from McKinsey suggests that a majority of employees indicate that the opportunity to work remotely and have control over their schedules are top company benefits. This benefit comes second only to healthcare and even parental leave and childcare.

The flex trap

Women tend to value flex more when it shifts from being a nice-to-have perk to a crucial benefit. The reason for this is that they still carry out the lion’s share of childcare and other invisible domestic work. They fequently make career decisions around their invisible work responsibilities.  38% of mothers with young children say that “without workplace flexibility, they would have had to leave their company or reduce their work hours.”

Worth a read: How to share the mental load in a household

But flexible working should be a gender-neutral benefit  because t’s not just women or mothers who benefit. All employees suggest that better work–life balance is a primary benefit of hybrid and remote work, with a majority citing reduced fatigue and burnout as downsides of RTO.

Research shows that good work–life balance and low burnout are key to organisational success.  83%  of employees share they are more efficient and productive when they are working remotely. However, leaders claim remote working negatively impacts productivity.

For women, hybrid or remote work is about more than flexibility. Mckinsey suggest that “When women work remotely, studies suggest they can experience a greater sense of belonging with fewer in-person microaggressions.”

flex trap

Benefits of working on-site

Some employees who work in the office claim to see tangible benefits. Many point to greater possibilities for collaboration and stronger relationships with co-workers. However, the culture of on-site work may be falling short. Research from LeanIn indicates that 77% of organisations suggest that being physically present in an office is key to building a strong corporate culture. However, only 39% of men and 34% of women who work on-site confirm that being present makes a big difference. When I go to client offices I see individual employees on Teams calls on their own computers, in an “alone together” set up..

Men it appears who work on-site benefit significantly more than their female colleagues. They are 7-9% more likely to likely to be “in the know,” receive the mentorship and sponsorships they need, and have their accomplishments noticed and rewarded.

Downsides of the flex trap

The assumption that flex is a female-only benefit embeds gender bias and stereotypes even further:

  • It reinforces the idea that women are primarily responsible for family care.
  • Flex options can mean that managers tend to forget those women who opt for remote or hybrid work and proximity bias kicks in.
  • In many workplaces, visibility, and face time are still crucial for career advancement. If women are more likely to work remotely or on flexible schedules, they may miss out on opportunities for networking, mentorship, and advancement compared to their counterparts who are physically present in the office.
  • Managers see those who opt for flex working embeds the perception that they are less committed and available. Those women who do work from home overcompensate and are not able to disconnect, which also leads to burnout.
  • Despite the pandemic, many organisations still don’t have the necessary infrastructure to support remote or hybrid working. Without proper support, flexible working arrangements can increase stress and workload for women.

To prevent embedding biases and stereotypes even further, organisations need to offer flexibility to all employees and stop differentiating between the two categories. Those who stay in the office have a “career” and those who work from home as having a “job.”

Until organisations provide support for both men and women to handle their personal responsibilities, we will continue to make assumptions that a woman’s place is in the home.


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Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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