Tag Archives: Part-Time

Want more women in top positions? Provide them with more flexibility at work

Heejung Chung, University of Kent

The recent BBC report on the pay of its top earners laid bare the disparities between men and women’s earnings. But it should come as no surprise. The gender pay gap has been stubbornly stagnant over the past decade. According to the EU (which calculates the gap based on hourly pay differences between men and women), men earn around 20% more. And the UK’s official statistics group, which calculates the pay gap of full-time earnings, men earn an average of about 10% more than women.

One core reason for this difference is the tendency for women to drop out of the labour market or move into (bad and low-paid) part-time jobs after having children. Employment data makes this clear.

For example, in 2015, 85% of women between the ages of 25‒49 without children were employed, exactly the same proportion as childless men employed in the same age group. But women are likely to drop out of the labour market or reduce their hours after childbirth, while men are more likely to increase their hours and increase their labour market participation.

The stats show that there is a sharp drop in the employment rate of women with children – to 71% – while the employment rate of fathers rises to more than 90% . Further, only 16% of all women between the ages of 25‒49 without dependent children worked part-time, while this proportion more than triples for women in the same age group with children to 52% .

It isn’t just about working part-time but the quality of part-time work is also a factor. It is widely known that women usually switch to lower-paying, lower-quality jobs when moving into part-time work, due to the lack of high-quality well-paid part-time jobs in the UK .

So the question arises: what can we do to help women maintain their working patterns after childbirth, without sacrificing their careers? My research into flexible working arrangements shows that they can help women maintain their working hours and stay in employment.

Introducing flexitime

Obviously the more flexibility you have at work the better you are able to shape work around family demands. I myself am a good example of this. Coming back to work from having taken six months of maternity leave after the birth of my daughter, I would not have been able to go back to work full-time if it wasn’t for the flexibility I had at work. Given the great amount of freedom you have as an academic to work whenever and wherever you want (within limits), I was able to work full-time by working from home and catching up on work during the weekends and evenings when my baby was asleep or I had other childcare support available. It was hard and I lost a lot of sleep – but through such flexibility I was able to maintain my research career.

I wondered whether similar patterns could be observed for other women in the UK. To investigate, my colleague Mariska van der Horst and I used a data set of 40,000 households to see whether being able to have control over when you work and where you work influences women’s likelihood of remaining in employment and not reducing their working hours significantly (of more than 4 hours) after the birth of their children. The results were remarkable.

In our research, which was published in the journal Human Relations, we found that women who were able to use flexitime were only half as likely to reduce their working hours after the birth of their child. This effect was especially the case for the women who used flexitime prior to the birth of their child as well as after.


Heejung Chung, CC BY-ND

In the overall sample, more than half the women reduced their working hours after the birth of their child. But less than a quarter of the women who were able to use flexitime reduced their hours, with similar results for women who were able to work from home if they wanted to. This shows that, given the chance to work flexibly, many women would stay in work and maintain their hours and their pay after having children.

As I’ve found in previous research, not all jobs allow for flexible work arrangements – and they are not necessarily provided to those in most need of them. Rather, they tend to be given more to high-skilled, higher educated workers in supervisory roles. Another recent study found that a large number of mothers are forced to leave their jobs after flexible working requests were turned down.

The ConversationIt is not only a matter of justice but also a matter of society’s economic prosperity and development to ensure that women are able to remain in the labour market across different stages of the life cycle, including childbirth. The right to flexible working is crucial if we are to tackle the problem of gender inequality in the labour market – especially when it comes to having a balance at the top of the career ladder.

Heejung Chung, Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy, University of Kent

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Flexible Jobs Index – Timewise

Employers are failing to overtly offer prospective employees flexible working options, and this is causing a ‘talent bottleneck’. While 46% of people in employment in the UK want some kind of flexible working, only 6% of vacancy listings specify flexible options.

So few job adverts mention flexible working that 77% of flexible workers feel trapped in their current role – halting career progression.  Moreover, those seeking flexible work ‘trade down’, 41% of flexible workers taking employment below their skill or salary level in order to get the flexibility they need.

Research shows that 52% of those looking for flexible work feel nervous to ask for flexibility when it isn’t specified in the advert; 43% fear asking will damage their chances of getting the job.

By not being proactive in opening jobs to those seeking flexible work, employers are cutting themselves off from some of the best available talent

Read more at Timewise.

The Problem with Part-Time Work Is That It’s Rarely Part-Time – Harvard Business Review

Many mothers looking to return work assume part-time schedules would be an ideal solution. However, research shows that many of those working mothers on official part-time schedules work well outside the bounds of them. Researcher Laura Vanderkam points out that:

Even though the part-timers had often taken pay cuts, and risked being seen as less committed to their careers than full-time colleagues, they weren’t necessarily working that much less.

Thus, rather than shifting to part-time contracts, returning mothers should consider returning full-time but with flexible working patterns.

Read more at Harvard Business Review.

Autonomy in flexibilized working time schemes? Factors that inhibit autonomy and where it succeeds

Yvonne Lott, of the Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaftlichen Institut (WSI) in Germany, questions whether working time flexibility can really deliver employee autonomy. 

Flexibility in working time makes it possible to reconcile work with the affairs of private life. Whether this is caring for children or elderly parents, or pursuing a qualification alongside work – flexible working times give employees freedom to organize their time. In particular when employees can themselves determine how to organize their working time, their autonomy at work can seem unlimited. Self-determination of work schedules promises control over one’s own working time and thus autonomy over one’s time in general. Employees with such working times should, then, have relatively stress-free (work) lives. Right? I am skeptical. Continue reading

Part-time power: Can you be part-time at the top? – BBC News

This article notes that common conceptions suggest that part-time workers are often women who have compromised their careers to bring up children, while full-time (male) workers occupy the most powerful positions.

However, research shows that there are people in the most senior positions in UK companies working part-time. The author suggests that ‘agile’, flexible ways of working are gaining acceptance as businesses adapt to younger people join the labour market and the changing needs of customers – in both cases, trends are often in favour of flexibility, both at work and in when people interact with businesses.

However, full acceptance will be gradual as for many people standard full-time working will remain not only normal but preferable.

Read more at BBC News.

Women and Flexible Working – IPPR

This report starts by noting that there is a ‘significant’ gap in male and female employment across Europe. It argues that this means economies are failing to utilise their full potential. In particular it highlights:

  1. Low rates of female employment, which effects economic output.
  2. A high prevalence of women working below their ‘qualification grade’, which might have effects in terms of a sub-optimal allocation of skills across an economy.
  3. Underemployment in terms of hours – particularly a persistent yet variable gap in working hours between men and women across typical life phases, which raises issues of productivity, staff retention and recruitment costs at the level of the firm.

The report looks at how flexible working options may play a part in addressing such negative outcomes. Furthermore, it also examines the challenges and opportunities that increased flexible working might offer. Findings include:

  • Increased part-time work and employee schedule control can be associated with an increased female employment rate.
  • The concentration of part-time work in low-level jobs may increase the tendency for women to work in occupations below their skill level.
  • Part-time work is often the main flexible working option, possibly leading to: unnecessarily low average working hours among new mothers, and mothers’ average working hours continuing to remain low throughout their careers.
  • High-levels of demand for a larger range of flexible working options among working women.

Read more at the IPPR.

Gen Y most negative towards flexible workers – HR Magazine

New research suggests that ‘Gen Y’ (those aged between 25 and 34 years-old) have the most negative attitude towards flexible working.

31% of UK Gen Y workers surveyed view those who work from home at least twice a week as less committed than people who work in the office every day. The average across all age groups was 21%.

Similarly, part-time working was seen as a sign of a lack of commitment by 27% of Gen Y respondents, versus 19% across the sample.

Those aged between 35 and 44 years-old were most supportive of flexible working patterns.

Read more at HR Magazine.

The Fourth Work-Life Balance Employee Survey – Tipping et al.

This wide ranging survey for the UK Government’s Department of Business, Innovation and Skills explore work-life balance and flexible working arrangements in the UK.

Key findings include:

  • Flexitime, working from home and part-time working were the forms of flexible working most commonly taken up by employees.
  • 90% of employees agreed that having more choice in working arrangements improves morale
  • 35% of employees felt that people who work flexibly create more work for others
  • The availability of flexible working was important for 41% of employees when they made their decision to work for their current employer.
  • Those with flexible working arrangements were more likely to work long hours, suggesting that such practices facilitate greater labour market involvement.

Tipping, Sarah; Chanfreau, Jenny; Perry, Jane; Tait, Claire (2012) The Fourth Work-Life Balance Employee Survey, Employment Relations Research Series 122, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/32153/12-p151-fourth-work-life-balance-employee-survey.pdf

Doing more with less? Flexible working practices and the intensification of work – Kelliher & Anderson

While the authors note that flexible work can improve job satisfaction and worker commitment to employers, they go on to point out that it can also lead to the intensification of work.

Looking at workers that have reduced hours or work remotely, the authors propose three means by which intensification proceeds:

  • imposed intensification
  • enabled intensification
  • intensification as an act of reciprocation or exchange

They argue that the paradox between increased work intensification, and reported increases in job satisfaction and organisational commitment may be explained by employees trading flexibility for effort, that is, employees ‘respond to the ability to work flexibly by exerting additional effort, in order to return benefit to their employer’.

Kelliher, Clare; Anderson, Deirdre (2010) “Doing more with less? Flexible working practices and the intensification of work” Human Relations, 63(1)

Available at: http://hum.sagepub.com/content/63/1/83

Non-standard work arrangements and national context – Kassinis and Stavrou

Using a sample of 1,893 companies across 15 countries, the authors examine the relationship between public expenditure on national family-leave policies, employment legislation and culture, and use of flexible working.

They find that these three areas of expenditure influence the use of flexible working, but that this depends on both context and type of flexible working. As such, they stress that researchers should consider both the national and institutional environments when designing and interpreting research on flexible working.

Kassinis, George I.; Stavrou, Eleni T. (2013) “Non-standard work arrangements and national context” European Management Journal, 31

Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0263237313000479