Sometimes working from home is not the answer

Sometimes heading into the office feels like a challenge. You’re not feeling 100 per cent or you’re just not in the mood.

Those with flexible working arrangements have a simple solution to the quandary: they can work from home or make up time another day.

Sounds good? Yes, but according to a recent study, not all flexible workers – such as part-time, flexitime, job sharers or homeworkers – would agree.

Research by Daniel Wheatley, principal lecturer in Economics at Nottingham Business School, shows that fewer women than men experience the well-being benefits of flexible working.

“The types of arrangement more often used by women – part-time, job share, term-time – appear to have more associated negative impacts and this is manifested in lower job satisfaction levels among women using these arrangements, especially when used for longer periods,” says Mr Wheatley.

The reason is all to do with choice, or lack of it, he says. The effect of flexible options is different for men and women, partly because of enduring gender norms such as the division of childcare, he says. In other words, women still do a lot of it.

“Often, women’s use of flexible working arrangements is a product of the need for flexibility as a result of care and/or other non-work commitments,” he says, adding that women therefore often switch from full-time to part-time hours – something they are not necessarily happy about.

He says some women feel trapped in “restrictive” flexible work while others are only able to secure low-skilled jobs with limited potential for career progression.

Helen McGuire, the co-founder of Hopscotch, a Dubai-based recruitment company that matches professional women seeking flexible working options with companies looking for short-term hires, says this has not been the case here. Hopscotch has placed varying roles, from HR directors to legal secretaries, since it launched in April and has a consistent cycle of about 40 positions.

“So far, we’ve had no issues with dissatisfaction from either our clients or candidates where flexible work arrangements are concerned and in fact quite the opposite, with both recognising the value added by the new opportunities presented,” she says.

q&a more change needed at home

Daniel Wheatley, principal lecturer in economics at Nottingham Business School, tells Gillian Duncan more about the benefits of flexible working:

How can women think more positively about working differently to others?

Change is required in the household and in the workplace. Gendered norms are difficult to dissolve but even more distribution of labour within the household would provide women with more choice in their use of flexible working arrangements. Positive change has certainly been seen in this respect in recent decades but further change is required in some households.

What sort of change exactly?

At the societal level greater equality in the household division of labour – housework, care and other aspects of household activity – would provide women with greater access to paid work.

What about within the workplace?

Effort is required in improving the quality of part-time and other reduced hours options more often used by women. It is central that any stigma attached to the use of these or any other arrangements – often because of perceptions of employers that these employees are no longer committed to their company or career – is avoided and that employers design more effective ways of using flexible working arrangements, perhaps including combinations, such as reduced hours with some days worked at home, so that potential win-win can be realised.

Was it all bad news? Or did women some actually like the flexibility?

Some forms do appear to generally provide benefits for men and women, such as homeworking. This suggests that wider spread use of these arrangements could be particularly beneficial to employees.

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