A new study looking at how families combine work and family life has found that although flexible working is widespread, it remains patchy in some sectors.
The study, Modern Families Index 2019, by the charity Working Families and nursery provider Bright Horizons, advocates more flexible working in order to solve some of the problems facing working parents not least issues around part-time working, pay and progression.
Whilst working reduced hours may be a positive choice for some parents, according to the report, it too often comes at the cost of career progression. Likewise, when organisations value presenteeism, reduced-hours workers are at a disadvantage.
Parents themselves are certainly in favour of flexible working, according to the report’s findings. For instance, over half the people surveyed reported that flexibility helped to make them happier although it also acted as a trap if they could not find a new job that offered the same level of flexible working.
Overall, technology was viewed as a positive contributor to work-life balance in that it offered the opportunity to work from anywhere. The downside was that it could blur the boundaries between work and home with 44 per cent of parents reporting that they read work emails after they got home, mainly because of workload pressures.
Both mothers and fathers reported that it was easier for women to take time off work for eldercare than it was for men. However the report found that parents wanted to share work and care, with both mothers and fathers reporting that they were thinking about downshifting into a job that gave a better work-life balance within the next two years.
The report therefore recommends that employers offer flexible recruitment and job design for instance by challenging assumptions that reduced hours means reduced commitment and ensuring that part-time workers have clear routes to progression.
Employers should also make sure their flexible working policies are up to date, available and transparent. In particular, they need to ensure that all employees know they have the right to request to work flexibly, not just parents and carers.
Iain Birrell, of Thompsons Solicitors, commented: "British people work some of the longest hours in Europe, but are among the least productive; the average British worker takes only a 34-minute lunch break and works 10 hours overtime each week (more often than not, this is unpaid). Contrast that with the average French worker who produces more by the end of Thursday than their UK counterparts do in a full week.
"We have an outdated workplace culture that values presenteeism, even in the face of clear evidence that doesn’t support it. Years of austerity, and changing social attitudes, have undoubtedly caused a lot of people to reassess what they value at work and many now place much greater value on things like flexible working. This can be seen in some businesses move to a 4 day working week. This initiative is supported by the TUC and whilst it doesn’t work for every company, many are reporting great benefits to profits, well-being and health. The theme running through the success stories is that happier staff are better for business. This report is a useful contribution to the current debate and deals with issues which should be of interest to us all."
The report can be found in full on the Working Families website.