Navigating the Autonomy-Interdependence Paradox: Achieving Temporal Flexibility through Workplace Relationships in Professional Services

in Behavioral Approaches, Research Day
May 14th, 2012

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Emily Heaphy

Organizational Behavior

Authors: Emily Heaphy and Spela Trefalt

Research on how professionals achieve temporal flexibility—the ability of individuals to adjust their work schedules to accommodate their personal needs and interests—has emphasized the benefits of formal organizational policies, yet typically such policies are underutilized or even resisted. In a qualitative study of a team-based professional services firm, we investigate how professionals achieve temporal flexibility outside of formal organizational policies. We find that professionals must navigate what we call the autonomy-interdependence paradox, in which a rhetoric of individual autonomy conflicts with the reality of highly interdependent work. Professionals manage this paradox by drawing on their workplace relationships. Consultants carefully architected opportunities to work with others with whom they knew they would be able to experience temporal flexibility, while avoiding those with whom they knew they would not, thereby constructing a relational context that supported temporal flexibility. Once in those relationships, they co-constructed temporal flexibility through practices of interpersonal treatment, project management, and signaling temporal flexibility. This study contributes to research on temporal flexibility, relational perspectives on professional work, and the sociology of work time.