Flexible working is becoming a must for many. One recent report found a quarter of UK workers have refused a job due to a lack of flexibility. This number jumps to 40% for millennial workers for whom work-life balance and flexible working is key when evaluating a job prospect.
Many hope that flexible working can help tackle the persistent gender pay gap. This is why the UK government announced a review of the right to flexible working in 2019 and the prime minister, Theresa May, said firms should strive to make it a reality for all staff, while urging companies to ensure women are better represented at senior levels. But my work with Tanja van der Lippe into the reality of how flexible working plays out shows that it can end up reinforcing gender stereotypes if cultural norms go unchecked.
Imagine if you could work whenever and wherever you wanted to. Would you work less and enjoy more time with family and friends? Or would you end up perpetually working, have work spill over into the rest of your life?
Many do not have to imagine what this freedom is like. Roughly a third of all employed workers in the UK have flexibility over their working hours and about a fifth of people work from home on occasion. Across the EU, about 17% of all employed workers have access to flexitime, which means their work start and finish times are flexible. Another 5% have full autonomy over when and how long they work.
Contrary to what you might expect, those with more control over their work schedule work more than those with less control. In fact, people have a tendency to work more overtime hours once they are allowed to work flexibly, compared to when they were not.
There are now over three million employees who are regular night-workers in the UK – an increase of 6.9% between 2007 and 2014.
In 2014, 14.9% of male employees were night workers, this is compared to 9.7% of female employees. However, the number of women working nights has grown at a faster rate: 12% since 2007 for women, as opposed to a 4% increase in regular night working for men.
There are negative health implications for those who work nights, such as heightened risks of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and depression. Less attention has been given to the impacts on home life, relationships and work-life balance.
A new report from the TUC demonstrates that night working can increase the risk of relationship problems, can affect the emotional well being of a night worker’s children, and is associated with higher childcare costs. However, these negative impacts can be mitigated when employees have more influence and control over their shift patterns.
Employers must properly consider and address all the implications for staff of night working and how best to mitigate negative outcomes. Decisions to extend night working need to involve consultation and negotiation with workers’ representatives to ensure fair and safe outcomes.
Barbara Hobson draws on the research of a team within a large European Network of Excellence, Reconciling work and welfare (RECWOWE), many of whom are authors in the recent book, Worklife Balance: The Agency and Capabilities Gap, focusing on the individual/household, firm and managerial level and welfare state policy context across European countries and Japan. In this post she discusses the choices faced by those who seek to take advantage of work-life balance policies.Continue reading →
The Eurofound 2014 Yearbook on Living and Working in Europe covers recent employment trends, highlights job creation and job loss has occurred, and suggests where investment in future growth is best directed.
Amongst its findings, data show that of those establishments that offer working time flexibility 44% do so only on a limited basis, with 35% having a selective offering. Only 20% of establishments have schemes that are encompassing; i.e. offer a broad range of flexible working time arrangements that usually are available to most or all employees.
However, analysis shows that those establishments offering flexible work on a encompassing basis have higher levels of performance and employee wellbeing. Those with selective provision have similar levels of well-being but lower performance, while limited provision establishments have lower performance and well-being than those with encompassing schemes.
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 →
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:
Low rates of female employment, which effects economic output.
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.
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.
The authors advance a “stress of higher status” hypothesis in relation to the distribution of work-family/work-life conflict. This hypothesis suggests that schedule control is usually for professionals and higher status workers who normally present a higher commitment to work, work longer hours, and blur boundaries allowing for easier permeability of work into non-work settings. Schedule control thus may have negative influence on work-family conflict. This hypothesis is supported by US data.
Schieman, Scott; Glavin, Paul; Melike, Melissa (2009) “When Work Interferes with Life: Work-Nonwork Interference and the Influence of Work-Related Demands and Resources” American Sociological Review, 74(6)
Drawing on data from the United States, this paper explores issues around autonomy and schedule control in the workplace.
It demonstrates that schedule control increases both the frequencies of bringing work home and work contact outside of normal working hours. This is especially the case for men. For both men and women, job autonomy is associated with more work being brought home. For men only, job autonomy is associated with increased work contact.
Schedule control and job autonomy also have implications for role-blurring and work-family conflict: work contact is positively associated with work-family conflict among individuals with low job autonomy, while bringing work home is associated positively with work-family conflict among individuals with greater schedule control.
Schieman, Scott; Glavin; Paul (2008) “Trouble at the Border?: Gender, Flexibility at Work, and the Work-Home Interface” Social Problems, 55(4)