Bosses and Flextime Are Uneasy Agreement

Flextime – stretching or curtailing one end of the workday to meet obligations outside the job – remains all the rage at a growing number of companies, from tech giants to Goliaths of accounting.

Bosses, however, clearly prefer employees who use the time and rubbery schedule to just plain work harder. “Flexible Work Practices: A Source of Career Premiums or Penalties?” explores a possible reason for the widely varying outcomes. Managers may look upon flextime favorably when they perceive a worker is using it to achieve higher productivity, and unfavorably when they perceive that it is being used to accommodate personal-life demands.

Writing in a recent Harvard Business Review, authors Christopher M. Barnes, Kai Chi Yam and Ryan Fehr examine another explanation why some flextime-using employees could feel a career pinch: the direction in which an employee shifts hours.

People seem to have a tendency to celebrate early-risers. Are employees who choose later start times stereotyped as less conscientious and given poorer performance evaluations on average? Do the larks hold an unspoken edge over the owls?

The authors designed an experiment to discover the degree to which people made an implicit connection between words associated with morning or evening, and those words associated with conscientiousness. Across 120 participants, the authors found that, on average, people do make a greater natural implicit association between morning hours and conscientiousness.

The authors then took their test to the actual work world and found that across 149 employee-supervisor examples, employees who started work earlier in the day were rated by their supervisors as more conscientious and received higher performance ratings.

Another lab experiment to test the same hypotheses asked participants in the role of supervisor to rate the performance of a fictitious employee based on a performance profile. Details of the profiles varied only in the time of day the worker spent on the job. Across 141 participants, “supervisors” gave higher ratings of conscientiousness and performance to employees who worked 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. than to those who worked 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The skewed ratings were also strongest for employees whose supervisors were larks, and disappeared for employees whose supervisors were night owls.