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Women who work flexitime or remotely are significantly less likely to reduce their working hours after childbirth and may see less impact on their career progression as a result, according to a new study.
Despite the increased number of women in the labour market in the UK, research shows many significantly reduce their working hours or leave the labour market altogether after childbirth. There have been studies of flexible working, but most have focused on part-time work when this is known to limit women’s career progression due to lack of quality part-time roles.
The new study published in the journal Human Relations looks at whether flexitime and remote working can influence mothers’ employment patterns post childbirth. The results show that these flexible ways of working can help women stay in work after childbirth and that women who work from home when needed and those who use flexitime are much less likely to significantly reduce their working hours after childbirth.
The researchers, Heejung Chung and Mariska van der Horst from the University of Kent, also found that flexitime seemed to matter most for those who were already using flexitime prior to childbirth. They said this might be becuase they were more willing to use it and less fearful of ‘flexibility stigma’.
They want to see more research on a larger sample to see whether the effect of flexible working is more marked for certain groups of workers, including different occupational groups, sectors and with different occupational status. And they would like to see studies on the impact of flexible working on fathers’ hours.
They state: “When mothers have control over where but more importantly when they work, this allows them to sustain their careers after childbirth by helping them maintain their employment status and their working hours.”
They add: “The results of this study also explain why previous studies found that flexitime and teleworking were not
very effective in reducing work–family conflict. Unlike working part-time, flexitime/teleworking helps mothers to maintain their working hours and employment intensity, which may not necessarily help in reducing work–family conflict. However, by allowing women to maintain their career after childbirth, flexible working may help women’s role expansion (being able to carry out both work and family roles), which may be more effective in increasing life satisfaction…Flexible working may help alleviate some of the negative consequences of the motherhood penalty, by allowing mothers to remain in human-capital-intensive jobs, which can help diminish the gender wage gap.
“Further, allowing mothers to maintain their employment status will have major implications for retaining human capital for companies and society as a whole. Thus, it is pertinent to think of various ways to encourage employers to provide workers genuine access to flexible working, especially flexitime, and to encourage work cultures where flexible working is the norm rather than the exception.”