Managing flexible work arrangements in US organizations: Formalized discretion or 'a right to ask'

Erin L Kelly, Alexandra Kalev

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

163 Scopus citations


Scholars of the American workplace agree that the employment relationship has changed in significant ways but disagree about whether workplaces are now best characterized as 'legalized' or 'restructured', a designation that implies a market orientation in the treatment of workers. We investigate whether a new set of employment practices, namely flexible work arrangements (FWA) such as flextime, compressed work weeks, telecommuting and reduced-hours schedules, are administered using the principles and practices associated with either or both management regimes. Our analyses of in-depth interviews with human resources managers from 41 diverse organizations show that most organizations have formalized FWA with written policies, but these policies institutionalize managerial discretion rather than creating outright rights for employees. Even when organizations write a formal written policy, FWA are managed as negotiated perks available to valued workers if and when managers choose to allow them, as suggested by the restructured workplace regime. We argue that this 'formalized discretion' explains the low utilization and unequal access to FWA found in previous studies. These findings suggest the need to reconsider the theoretical link between formalization and employees' rights in the workplace.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)379-416
Number of pages38
JournalSocio-Economic Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2006


  • Flexible work arrangements
  • Formalization
  • Human resources
  • Legalization
  • Part-time employment
  • Restructuring
  • Working hours


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