The Perils of Flextime

Flexible work arrangements are popular, but they may exact a price – particularly from women who hope to become CFOs.

Certainly, even the biggest proponents of flexible work arrangements would not say that they should be universally offered across the finance department. “[Finance staff members] in sales operations are constantly working across lines of business, so they can’t really work from home, or on a reduced schedule, because if a deal comes through on a day you’re off, that work still needs to be done,” says ATG’s Bradley. Fior believes all heads of departments need to be in the office at least 90% of the common office hours, to “show by example.” Anyone doing Sarbanes-Oxley work, testing controls, or handling AP is also generally expected to be in the office.

Financial planning and analysis (FP&A) staffers could spend some time out of the office, he says, but “they play a very critical role in making sure managers and leadership are up to date, and the only way to do that is to be here, having face-to-face meetings with, say, an operations executive who doesn’t have a clue about financials.”

The CFO survey found that finance executives believe jobs in the areas of financial reporting, accounts payable, and FP&A are best-suited to some form of nontraditional schedule, while the treasurer role and tax and business-unit finance functions seem to be even less suited to flexibility than the CFO post itself.

Culture Shift

Making the most of flexible work arrangements will require a concerted effort across the organization. Executives who support the concept need to set the proper tone at the top. “I telecommute occasionally myself, and when I do, I try to do it in a very visible way,” says Kaplan of Prudential Financial. To that end, he recently led a monthly awards presentation from home, via teleconference. He also surveyed his department about how interested people were in various flextime options, and then led general education sessions about what would be offered — and expected — before formally rolling it out.

Those seeking flexibility must also approach it in the right way. Bravo’s Seminara says that even though she has been adamant about working a reduced schedule while her children are young, she waited until she was the leading candidate for a position before bringing up the topic. Then, she had to do a “fair amount of selling,” including framing her proposal as somewhat negotiable.

“I’ve always started those talks with, ‘Let’s try this and circle back in six weeks, and you can tell me what’s working and what’s not,’” she says. Rather than broadcasting her schedule limitations, she typically “asks politely to have meetings scheduled between Monday and Thursday.” And she says it’s important to acknowledge that flexibility applies to “both sides of the arrangement: if a presentation to the CEO of NBC is scheduled for a Friday, I will be here, with no complaints.”

At most companies, such arrangements seem to foster rather than impede employee performance. Perhaps as companies become more comfortable with the tactical considerations of implementing and managing flextime policies, they will turn their attention toward assessing how such policies can not only help them hang on to good employees, but ensure that those employees continue to advance. That would be particularly good news for women who aspire to the CFO post. It may even help them break the 10% ceiling.

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