Women not reaping full wellbeing benefits of flexible working

flexible working womanWorking flexible hours is associated with lower job satisfaction among women, but greater satisfaction among men, a new study claims. The research explores the impact of flexible working on job, leisure and life satisfaction and suggests that women are not experiencing the full benefits. According to Dr Daniel Wheatley, lecturer in Economics at Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University; the research suggests that while flexible working generates a number of benefits, working part-time or reduced hours has significant negative impacts on job satisfaction. He explains: “While some women are able to use reduced hours optimally, such as those working part-time following maternity leave, those using reduced hours for lengthier periods because of commitments such as childcare may feel trapped in ‘restrictive’ flexible employment. They may only be able to gain low skilled employment and may experience limitations in career progression.”

The paper, published by the journal Work, Employment and Society, uses data from the British Household Panel Survey and the Understanding Society survey. Flexible working arrangements include part-time, flexi-time, job share and homeworking. Part-time accounts for approximately 40% of female employment and is the most common flexible working arrangement used by women. Term-time working is also used predominantly by women, reflecting the gender norms regarding caring for school-aged children.

Both working part-time for a longer period and working flexible hours were associated with lower job satisfaction among women, but greater satisfaction among men.

Dr Wheatley said: “Within post-industrial economies, including the UK, there has been significant expansion of flexible working arrangements in the last two decades, driven by, amongst others, the work-life balance agenda.

“In practice work-life balance and flexible working continue to be viewed as a ‘women’s issue’, as women more often reduce hours or work part-time as a result of constraints imposed by their greater household contribution.

“While some women are able to use reduced hours optimally, such as those working part-time following maternity leave, those using reduced hours for lengthier periods because of commitments such as childcare may feel trapped in ‘restrictive’ flexible employment. They may only be able to gain low skilled employment and may experience limitations in career progression.

“In contrast, for men the use of flexible working arrangements may represent more of a choice. For example, flexi-time, the most common arrangement used by men, helps management of household responsibilities while maintaining full-time employment. Meanwhile, reduced hours are more often used by younger men combined with study or by older men as part-retirement.”

However, while job satisfaction was negatively affected, the analysis did suggest that women working part-time experienced more leisure satisfaction.

The findings also provided clear evidence of the positive impacts of working from home on job and leisure satisfaction for both men and women, demonstrating the general benefits of increased control over the timing and location of work and enabling better management of work alongside household responsibilities.

Dr Wheatley added: “The findings suggest current policy and workplace practice needs to be revisited. Employers remain unwilling, especially given recent economic uncertainty, to offer truly ‘employee friendly’ policies, and instead focus on ‘business need’.

“Offering flexibility with a greater degree of choice has significant potential benefits in regard to employee satisfaction. Employers need to move away from the ideas of gender which are attached to flexible working; facilitate choice in the use of flexible working arrangements; and improve the quality of reduced hours options.”

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