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Being Flexible on the Job

What effect does working longer hours have on American workers? Do flexible work schedules give employees greater control over their work lives? Mindy Fried spent two years seeking answers to just such questions.
      Last August, Fried completed a study on workplace flexibility based at Boston College’s Center for Work and Family. A qualitative researcher, she and her colleagues studied six large American corporations—Bristol-Myers Squibb, Allied Signal, Amway, Kraft Foods, Lucent, and Motorola—to determine the impact that flexible schedules and telecommuting had on employee well-being and on company performance. “Working too many hours can lead to increased stress,” Fried says. “Increased stress can negatively affect people’s emotional and physical health, and impact their relationships with children, partners, and friends. To some extent, flexible work arrangements let the steam out of the kettle.”
      Fried’s journey toward studying work and family issues began at SU. A native of Buffalo, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the College of Arts and Sciences in 1972, and an M.S.W. in community organizing and social policy planning in 1975. While at SU, she participated in a study group that discussed the history of women’s activism, analyzed current social problems from a gender and class perspective, and published the New Salt City Press, which included analyses of current issues and historical pieces. She also worked as a dance therapist at Hutchings Psychiatric Center in Syracuse, a job that enabled her to combine her passions of social work and dance.
      After graduation, Fried worked with the City of Syracuse’s Services Integration Project, and then served as field research coordinator for a Cornell University-based international study that examined the impact of stresses and supports on families with 3-year-olds. “For four years we did research on family issues and how they intersected with work and community,” Fried says. “It was a fabulous opportunity.”
      Fried then worked in Boston for several years on various child and family projects before returning to graduate school. She earned a Ph.D. in sociology at Brandeis University in 1996 and then spent two years as a visiting professor. In 1998, she published Taking Time: Parental Leave Policy and Corporate Culture Temple University Press), which is now used by academics in classrooms and by human resources professionals addressing work-family issues.
      She also began the flexibility study at Boston College and, with her team, performed more than 1,500 interviews with employees who use flex time or telecommute. They also surveyed and interviewed the employees’ managers and co-workers. To companies that express concern about the effect of flexibility on bottom-line issues, Fried says: “Those concerns should be put to rest. Flex time and telecommuting have a positive impact on productivity, quality of work, and employee retention.” The study also found that employees who had daily flexibility in their jobs had better work-life balance and more job satisfaction than those with more rigid schedules.
      Fried now works as a consultant on family and work issues to government and nonprofit organizations, and is a visiting professor in women’s studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Over the years, I have developed a deeper understanding of the impact of economics and social structures on daily life,” she says. “Whether through my teaching, research, or activism, I try to contribute to improving workplace policies.”

—Kelly Homan Rodoski

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