The nature of work is changing. In the past, fathers typically assumed the role as a family’s breadwinner. These days, things are different. Many mothers aim to pursue careers that they have worked and studied hard for, and equally, many fathers aim to be actively involved in caring for their children.
Flexible work arrangements, as defined by the Fair Work Ombudsman, are changes to the standard hours, patterns and locations of work. Research has shown that there are significant gender differences in the utilisation of flexible work arrangements, with women being more likely to take parental leave and other flexible work arrangements. A recent survey of Australian workers, conducted by the University of South Australia, found that 24.2% of women had requested flexibility at work compared to 17.3% of men. Men were found not to request flexibility despite being unhappy with their current work arrangements, and were also were also more likely (17.4%) than women (9.8%) to have their request for flexibility accepted. Overall, the research indicates that there may be several individual and workplace barriers to men requesting flexible working arrangements.
As well as tangible business benefits, there are also several benefits for men and their families that can be generated from men working flexibly:
♦ Active fathering and psychological well-being: Flexible working allows fathers the opportunity to be actively engaged in parenting. This has been shown to improve psychological wellbeing of both the fathers’ and their partners.
♦ Active fathering and more equal division of labour: Research has shown that when fathers experience their partner’s daily routine, particularly in relation to child care, they are more likely to gain an appreciation of the unpaid work often undertaken by women. This may lead to increased equality in the division of household work and lessened conflict over this household work.
♦ Enhanced family relationships: Research has demonstrated a positive relationship between men who work flexibly and improved family relationships. Additionally, when the organisational culture is supportive of family responsibilities, fathers have been shown to experience less work/family conflict.
♦ Increased performance and productivity: Flexibility has been shown to contribute to improved work performance and productivity. For example, in a study of men working in a respected consulting firm, those who had a high-level of commitment to work but who also set clear boundaries (for example not working on weekends; being home for dinner each night) were the highest performers. Flexibility has also been shown to minimise absenteeism; research with men who worked irregular hours showed than when they gained flexibility in their work schedule, they had lower levels of absences due to illness. Lastly, a survey conducted in the US found that fathers who worked in an organisation that was supportive of family responsibilities had higher career satisfaction and were less likely to indicate intention to resign.
♦ Increased Employee Engagement: Research has shown that when men do not have access to flexible work arrangements they may find it difficult to manage the conflicting demands of their work and personal lives; this can lead to decreased job satisfaction, decreased engagement as well as increased intention to leave the organisation.
♦ A broader talent pool to recruit from: Research by the Diversity Council of Australia shows that flexible working is one of the most important employment drivers for several groups of male workers, and for young fathers and men under 35 years of age, flexible work is the third most valued job characteristic. If flexible working arrangements are more highly utilised by men, this allows for more opportunities for women to engage more fully in the workforce which can result in the availability of a broader talent pool overall.
Supporting and encouraging men to access flexible work arrangements will provide benefits to both organisations and individuals, as well as their families and the community. Strategies to improve men’s access to flexibility in the workplace include:
♦ Recognise the diversity amongst men: Firstly, it is vital to recognise the diversity among men (i.e. life stage, lifestyle) and understand that men seek flexible work for various reasons. In order to respond appropriately to the workplace needs of men, it is important to recognise and understand their diversity.
♦ Workplace Culture: It is important to create a culture that supports flexibility for men as well as women. Many people believe that flexibility is only for mothers with young children; it is important to challenge and overcome these assumptions and stereotypes, and to promote flexible work to all employees. If it becomes the norm to work flexibly, there will be no associated stigma.
♦ Leadership Role Models: It is believed by many, that flexible work arrangements are not compatible with people in senior roles. To challenge these perceptions, it is important to develop senior male role models who work flexibl and publicise these ‘success stories’ so all employees recognise the possibilities for flexibility..
♦ Provide better access to parental leave for fathers: Many companies in Australia provide generous maternity leave programs for women, but often these companies do not provide these same entitlements for fathers. It is important to review these policies and work towards providing fathers with better access to parental leave. Perhaps we could learn something from Sweden, where a government-funded parental leave scheme allows parents to take 480 days paid parental leave per child, and each parent has a right to 90 of those days.