Research highlights tension

Features Posted 15/12/18
The flexible working debate splits opinions among staff and often leads to negative views, according to a report by a university professor.

Dr Heejung Chung from the University of Kent set out to analyse data from the 2011 Work-Life Balance Survey conducted by the government, specifically to examine whether stigma against flexible workers existed, who was most likely to hold such beliefs and who was most likely to suffer from it. She appears to have unearthed a new tension between the sexes.

The research shows that a third of all UK workers believe those who work flexibly create more work for others, while a similar proportion believe their career will suffer if they use flexible working arrangements. Dr Chung also found that the majority of respondents who held negative views against flexible workers were male, while women and especially mothers were the ones most likely to suffer from such stereotypes.

One out of five workers (18 per cent) said they had experienced direct negative career consequence as a result of working flexibly, which possibly accounts for the very low uptake of the right to request flexible working since it was made law in 2003 and expanded to cover all workers as of 2014.

It was women, especially mothers who worked part-time and on reduced hours, rather than full-time workers who work flexibly (teleworking or on flexitime) who reported that their careers were negatively impacted by working flexibly. On the other hand, men, especially fathers (almost half of the respondents), were likely to have reported that their own jobs were negatively impacted due to others working flexibly.

Flexitime refers to workers who can move their start and end times, for example 8am till 4pm or 9 till 5. Teleworking refers to workers who are able to work from home or other non-office locations and use technology to remain in contact with the office as required.

Commentating on the research, Dr Chung, from the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research at Kent, said: “It is clear there are still many people who view flexible working as a negative and for different reasons. This has major implications for how employers introduce and offer flexible working arrangements in their organisation, especially as the government looks to increase the rights of workers to request flexible working.

“A simple introduction and expansion of the right to request flexible working will not be enough. We need to challenge our prevalent organisational cultures which privileges work above everything else, with long hours considered to be synonymous with productivity and commitment. Such change is crucial especially if flexible working is to help reduce the gender wage gap.’

The paper, entitled Gender, flexibility stigma, and the perceived negative consequences of flexible working in the UK, has been published in the journal Social Indicators Research - Special Issue: Flexible Working, Work-life Balance, and Gender Equality.

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