The Washington Post

And we wonder why so many women with young children drop out of the workforce


The good news? Companies are getting more flexible in how employees spend their hours. From 2005 to 2012, the percentage of companies that allowed at least some employees to periodically change starting and quitting times grew from 68 percent to 77 percent. Also encouraging: The percentage of employers allowing at least some staffers to work at home on an occasional basis grew from 34 percent to 63 percent over the same period.

But the bad news says a lot — and about a much bigger issue. The number of companies that allow at least some employees to move from full-time to part-time work and back again while remaining in the same position or level is on the decline: It was 54 percent in 2005, and is 41 percent in 2012. Similarly, fewer companies (73 percent) are letting workers return to work gradually after childbirth or adoption (86 percent did in 2005).  

The trend likely has something to do with the economy: It doesn’t cost corporate leaders anything to let people work from home (indeed, it may save them money) or to come in early and leave early, as long as they’re working the same number of hours. Meanwhile, making accommodations for women or men who would like to work part time following the birth of a child, or for a period of time following their leave, can be expensive for companies to do.

Cost may underpin these trends, but smart organizations would do well to take some other factors into account as well when making arrangements with employees who would like to temporarily scale back on work. Some studies have shown that women with young children are happier when they have the opportunity to work part time or pull back on their career’s accelerator without leaving work entirely. Others have illustrated how companies that allow their workers the opportunity to scale back for a brief period of time have benefitted by gaining the best and most dedicated talent. Even if the privilege is reserved for high-performing employees, it’s sad to see such opportunities becoming rarer and rarer. Flexibility means a lot more than just being able to work in your pajamas.

More from On Leadership:

Is your colleague’s stay-at-home wife holding you back at work?

How to completely destroy an employee’s work life

Crazy data point of the day: The rise in CEO pay

View Photo Gallery: Washington Post readers respond to the article “How to completely, utterly destroy an employee’s work life,” and share their own “advice” for making employees miserable.

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.



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