Determinants of Flexible Work — Considering Contexts

As part of the WAF Project we will provide succinct summaries to key academic resources. These resources are drawn from peer-reviewed journals, or were written by academics for government departments or other organisations with remits that cover work flexibility, autonomy and work-life balance.

These academic resources form an important part of the literature this project is engaging with. More than this, they also provide an overview of the most important contributions to, and the state-of-the-art in, current academic debates.

The first twenty articles have gone up and includes contributions on, among other topics, the outcomes of flexible work, remote and part-time working, and work-life balance and work-family conflict. If there’s an article you think we should include, or perhaps a piece of research you would like to write a blog post about, then please do get in touch.

In the remainder of this blog I’m going to pick out one of the key themes for this project, and featured in some of these articles. Namely the determinants of flexible work, thinking specifically about the importance of considering contexts.

The International Flexible Work Survey 2013 demonstrates that the most common reasons organisations give for providing flexible working varies by country — in the UK it is to meet staff wishes, whereas in the Netherlands cost-savings were most often cited.

Berg et al. (2004), also show the importance of the national context, including regulatory environments and labour market conditions, as determinants in the provision of flexitime. They point out that such flexible working arrangements are more prevalent in countries with extensive labour representation (including union, collective bargaining) than those without.

Den Dulk et al. (2013) also highlight the national context, maintaining that national cultural attitudes to work play an important role. In states where work has a ‘cultural centrality’, flexible working provisions are less extensive.

We can discern, then, the importance of the national context. However, den Dulk et al. go on to also note the importance of the organisational context as a determinant of flexible work. They found that public sector and larger organisations were more sensitive to national characteristics than private sector and smaller organisations.

Golden (2001) also points to the importance of organisational context. Looking specifically at cases within the United States, he points out that the availability of flexible work is uneven between sectors. This can be due to factors such as characteristics of the job or working hour patterns related to the job. However, he also points to individual level contexts, demonstrating that nonwhites, women, unmarried persons and those with relatively less education are less likely to have access to flexible working. The gender context is further explored by Brescoll et al. (2013), who demonstrate that high-status men who request flexible working are more likely to have it granted than women of any status, regardless of the reason behind the request.

As such, when considering how it is that someone has access to flexible working, or why a company provides it, it is important to consider national, organisational and individual contexts.

The WAF Project aims to address this by drawing on data from several national and international surveys of working patterns, trends and attitudes, and by using multilevel modelling techniques, to build a comprehensive picture of the determinants of flexible work.

The first paper of this project will tackle this exact issue, and the draft version of the paper is planned to be published on this website later this year.

Our next blog post will consider the outcomes of flexible working, including how these contexts can play an important role.