Men and women alike face the problem of balancing their private life and their career. This has led employers to develop numerous solutions in order to improve their business’s work environment, one of the most popular arrangements being flexible working.
A research conducted by prof. Wheatley shows that flexible working is associated with higher leisure time satisfaction in both men and women. Increased individual control over the timing and location of work brings higher productivity of employees, better general mood in the workplace and easier balancing of work and family life. Moreover, flexible working has numerous benefits for the company – employees are available to customers outside traditional working hours, which contributes to better customer relations; the company’s image improves as it becomes family-friendly, gender-balanced and attractive to millennial/younger employees; costs lower since employees are less likely to take long-term sick leave; employee loyalty rises.
However, actual company practices related to flexible working show some imperfections. Research conducted in the UK between the years 2001 and 2011 shows that women in flexible working arrangements experience lower job satisfaction. According to Wheatley (2017) approximately 40 % of women choose part-time or term-time working. The latter means they are only actively employed for a certain number of weeks a year. The time they don’t spend in active employment is organised in regular intervals which are usually accounted for by annual and unpaid leave. Both part-time and term-time working reflect societal gender-norms regarding the caring for children, which is supposed to be the primary role of women.
Furthermore, according to a King’s College London research conducted in 2015, 25 % of women in flexible working arrangement felt their superiors don’t take them seriously. Over 35 % of women surveyed also felt they have to put in more hours to show their commitment, leading to 20 % of them putting in 10 or more extra hours a week. Such restrictive flexible working practices can make women feel trapped, since their chances of career advancement are limited, and they are often employed in low-skill jobs below their qualifications. Overall, women in flexible working arrangements experience lower job satisfaction than men in similar arrangements. For men, flexible working is more of a choice than an obligation, so a huge gender gap can be observed regarding the use of traditional flexible working arrangements.
Despite the numerous positive aspects of flexible working, employers are not always able to make possible for their employees to utilize it efficiently, which can lead to negative externalities within the working process.
If just providing flexible working arrangements is not enough, how can a company benefit from them? Some of the solutions put forward by the previously mentioned research, which are also part of the GEMA certificate, are the following:
(1) Educating the senior staff not to neglect employees in flexible working arrangements. Since the senior staff are the ones who grant flexible working to their employees, open lines of communication are crucial in not making employees feel intimidated or ashamed in asking for what they need.
(2) Although flexible working employees are one of the most productive, they are rarely promoted. Moreover, the productivity reports of women who have just returned from maternity leave are often graded lower due to less working hours. In order to avoid such discrepancies, performance reviews should be based on objective indicators which do not discriminate based on gender or the working arrangement of an employee.
(3) Enabling equal opportunities for both men and women is of key importance. Women should not feel obligated to work part-time just because it is expected of them to spend more time taking care of their family. It is crucial to overcome societal gender norms.
(4) Establishing a mentor scheme can help employees immensely. Mentors take on the role of an advisor while providing support to those employees who are not part of the traditional company working schedule.