Organizations and U.S. workers across the life course indicate increased interest in flexible work arrangements. More organizations have flexibility on the books, but rates of utilization remain low, and both workers and organizations note operational challenges and concerns. Noticing the commonality of these experiences across organizational settings and the need for more in-depth examination of workplace structure and culture not limited to circumstances immediately surrounding flexibility, Lisa Fisher set out to identify specific elements of the structure and culture of work that impeded flexibility in an organization that had a history of struggle with it. Using interviews and non-participant observation to conduct a qualitative case study, she found that the struggle, happening on the ground within the daily processes of work, was not the result of unsupportive management or overly-cautious employees. Instead, she found evidence of something much more powerful and all-encompassing: a system of silence surrounding flexibility.
Fisher begins the book with a thoughtful account of the history and current state of flexibility in the U.S. within a framework that considers changing demographics, organizational perspectives, neoliberalism, globalization and lingering problems with how we think about flexibility. She then provides an in-depth analysis of the structure and culture of work at the organization studied, which culminates in a model specifying the workings of the system of silence as a phenomenon nested within the work environment and larger cultural ideas about work and workers. Fisher shows how things assumed to be unrelated to flexibility can still have bearing on the ways that an organization understands and approaches it. She thereby develops a rich, informative account of struggle and resilience, change and adaptation, confusion and sense-making, and obstacles and pathways, an account which suggests important theoretical implications and provides practical tips for organizations that are serious about flexibility.