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A new study was launched this week showing how many mums are forced to sacrifice job quality for flexible working.
The study, produced by the charity Working Families, the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London and the University of East Anglia, was launched this week. It found that job quality is often missed in the focus on flexible working. Job quality includes fairness, wellbeing, decent pay, doing something fulfilling or meaningful, having control over your hours and tasks and having a secure permanent contract or predictable shifts, a supportive manager and opportunities to progress and learn.
The study looked at what aspects of job quality are important to parents, how flexibility interacts with job quality and the impact of Covid-19 on what parents want from work. Fifty-six per cent of those surveyed were women.
It found that flexible working is vital to parents, but that it is often narrowly defined and poorly implemented; that security and control are very important; that women make significant involuntary trade-offs to get flexible working; and that parents want a broader approach to flexibility beyond just remote working, an openness to alternative work schedules, greater trust from employers and a bigger voice after Covid.
When it comes to flexible working, respondents believed there is too much focus on remote working rather than flexibility around scheduling and working time. Researchers also highlighted some employers’ lack of knowledge about how to deal with flexible working requests, gendered assumptions and an unsupportive work culture in many cases and an unwillingness to change expectations about work, making genuine flexible working impossible.
“Mostly it is mums making the trade-offs and these are often not willingly made. Many feel forced to make them and are not happy about them,” said Rose Cook, a senior research fellow at King’s College, as she presented the results at a webinar held by King’s College London’s Global Institute for Women’s Leadership [GIWL].
She added that mums tended to do well when it comes to getting flexible working compared to men, but not on other aspects of job quality. Dads who get flexible working are more likely to speak of the trade-offs in a positive way.
The report, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, recommends that employers offer a day one right to flexible working to all employees, ask parents about what they need, improve the flexible working request process and provide ‘workable flexible working’. It says family friendly working should include job quality and that employers should monitor the career progress of flexible workers. For policy makers, it recommends that the law be changed to allow a day one right to flexible working, that Government focuses more on job quality and affordable quality childcare and that employers are forced to monitor pay and progression for flexible employees as part of the gender pay audits.
Speaking on the webinar, Tulip Siddiq, Shadow Minister for Education and Early Years who brought forward a 10-minute rule bill to bring in a day one right to request flexible working in the summer, said that, despite the focus on working from home, flexible working legislation currently favours employers and that flexibility has in some cases reversed since Covid, particularly for part-time options. She said no-one should have to sacrifice job quality to get flexible working.
Jane Van Zyl from Working Families spoke about the need for ‘human-sized jobs’ – jobs that can be done in the contracted hours. There was general agreement that reducing hours had to mean reducing expectations of what can be done in those hours. Van Zyl backed the call for monitoring of flexible workers’ career progress which she said could show employers where people are getting stuck and said it should be part of the levelling-up white paper. Kudsia Batool from the TUC said genuine flexible working was good for people and for business as well as for gender equality. She also spoke about the need for more notice being given about shift changes and rights to limit surveillance of home workers.