Is flexible working a women's issue?

For many mums across the UK, flexible working is a godsend at this time of year. With six weeks of summer holidays to contend with, finding childcare can be a nightmare if you’re stuck in a 9-5 role where your only options are taking annual leave, paying out a fortune for summer camps and clubs, or arranging a complex schedule of friends and family who can help out.

But should we really be positioning flexible working as a mum issue?


7 August 2018

It’s true that women do a greater percentage of the childcare in the UK than men. The ONS suggests the most common set up is a father working part time and a mother working full time. And the Fatherhood Institute’s Fairness in Families Index reports that for every hour of childcare that mothers do, father do just 24 minutes - making British dads the worst in the developed world.


That said, we’ve always believed that flexibility and childcare concern all parents. In the 2017 Modern Families Index, work-life balance charity Working Families showed that 70% of men work flexibly “to accommodate their caring responsibilities”. And the government’s move towards increased paternity leave and the options for shared parental leave show that society is slowly shifting towards viewing parents as equal carers.


Non-parents want flexibilty too


But flexibility is not just about parents. The Modern Families Index also found that 29% of people who work flexibly do so “in order to pursue hobbies or other interests.”


As society begins to understand more about the importance of work life balance, the causes of stress, the value of exercise and hobbies etc we are starting to realise that work isn’t everything. In fact, working too much or in a way that doesn’t fit with our lives is unhealthy both mentally and physically.


As consumers we are also becoming more demanding - we want our supermarket shopping delivered, we want to access our bank accounts on our phones, we want customer services teams to be available 24-7. And this attitude is seeping into our work. If an employer doesn’t offer benefits that suit our lifestyle, we’re more than happy to look for one that does.


It’s also an economic issue


As a result of changes in society, industry, technology and more, the old 9-5 system is rapidly becoming outdated. Rather than insisting on presenteeism, setting goals for employee that are simply time based, businesses are starting to recognise that productivity is far better measured in terms of output.


Part of this change has come about because of the very real costs of chaining employees to their desks. A US study suggests that presenteeism costs the economy of that country more than $150 billion a year. Another one by Green and Black estimated that while absenteeism in the UK costs the economy $11.8 billion, presenteeism costs $21 billion.


With the desire for flexibility undeniable (88% of working 35-54-year-olds and 92% of 18-34-year-olds want flexible hours, according to Timewise) it’s an issue no employer can afford not to think about. In the future, those not offering any kind of flexibility are likely to find themselves struggling to attract or retain the best staff.


To conclude, flexibility is essential for many mothers and, indeed, fathers. But it’s not exclusively a parenting issue and is one that forward-thinking employees should consider an integral part of their employee branding now and in the future.