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Flexible on the Job
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
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
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