Out of touch

The push to return more and more days to the office is leading to some women reducing their hours. Employers should take note.

Group of office employees walking

 

We’ve heard a lot of late about the negatives of working from home and hybrid working. There’s the impact on mental health, for one. The ability to collaborate and ‘be creative’ are cited as other casualties. But the evidence doesn’t present a clear picture. While working from home is bad for some people’s mental health, for others it is a boon, for instance. It all depends, which is not the kind of answer many want to hear and it definitely doesn’t make good headlines.

There are also many positives and one of them is on women’s career progression, in particular, progression for those with caring responsibilities. A survey out this week from Deloitte shows starkly the impact of return-to-the-office full time policies on women. Half of the 500 women surveyed had been asked to return to the office on certain days or full time. A third of these have been asked to come back full time on site. Nearly half of these said this had either made them less productive or have worsened their mental health. 44% said they had asked to lower their hours as a result of having to work full time in the office. Over a third think less of their employer as a result.

The sample size is small, but significant and there are sure to be more studies in due course. The world has changed a lot since people first started working full time in offices. There are more women with children employed and men are now expected to share more of the caring responsibilities. What’s more, there will be more rather than less need for flexibility around caring duties in the future as people have to work longer. There’s only so much people can fit into a day with commuting, caring and working before they keel over. Being able to work from home some of the time at least makes it easier for people to cope. The same goes for health issues, which we are seeing a lot of recently.

It feels like we have been saying the same thing for many years, but still some people at the top of industry and politics don’t seem to get it. No doubt women’s career progression is not a big priority for them, but with workforce shortages continuing and pressures in many top jobs rising, industry surely needs to retain women at all levels. Yet recruitment firm Reed says employers are reducing the number of flexible job opportunities they advertise, including those offering part-time and remote work. Reed is worried this will pose challenges for the government’s efforts to ease labour market tightness. There are all sorts of practical reasons why flexibility matters nowadays.  The evidence will keep mounting up of the impact of inflexible approaches. Despite all the sturm and drang, the direction of travel is clear. It’s time to turn the tables on those at the top who are out of touch with reality.



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