An ‘always on’ culture and stigma surrounding flexible working is causing parents to work two extra hours at home, according to research.
The 2020 Modern Families Index by Working Families and Bright Horizons surveyed 3,090 working parents and found many struggled to cope with the demands of home and work, despite the rise of flexible working policies.
While the majority (55%) of working parents reported being allowed to work from home and flexibly, 48% said that this actually increased their workload. Forty four per cent felt compelled to work from home during evenings.
Joeli Brearley, founder of support group Pregnant Then Screwed, said flexible working policies were “not worth the paper they are written on” unless supported by culture change.
She said: “What these figures really show is that flexible working still has an image problem. It’s still viewed as a diluted form of the traditional work model rather than an evolution of it.
“There is a stigma attached to flexible working that implies that those who take it up aren’t as committed to their jobs, and so you end up with parents working extra hours for free to prove that commitment.”
In last year’s Queen’s Speech, the government pledged to “increase fairness and flexibility in the labour market by stopping employers and workers experiencing significantly different outcomes from flexible forms of working.”
However, in the immediate future, employers can act to promote flexible working and end the stigma.
Lead by example
If employees see senior managers working extended hours and never leaving their desks, there is the implication that this is what is expected of the whole workforce. Although this may not be true, it can certainly portray this image.
Ideally, senior managers should use flexible working themselves. Another step is to advertise more higher-level jobs as part time or flexible.
Flexible working is for everyone
Flexible working is not just for new parents, women, or any other specific demographic. Anyone can request flexible working, however it is still up to the employer to decide whether to grant it or not.
Because of this, it is important not to inadvertently discriminate against anyone. Be wary of protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, and any reasonable adjustments for employees with a disability.
End the ‘always on’ culture
The employer should make it very clear that employees are not expected to work outside their contracted hours.
If there is a perception in the workforce that people who never switch off tend to get ahead and receive favourable treatment, then it needs to be addressed. This kind of culture can become toxic, harmful to people’s wellbeing, and conversely slow down productivity in the long term.
Reward employees on merit, not visibility
Presenteeism has long been a problem in workplaces, with managers subconsciously believing that the employees they see are the ones working. Of course, this is not always the case. The technology we now have means someone working from home is just as likely to be productive as someone in the office.
Secondly, it’s easier to measure output too. People who work from home actually tend to more motivated and empowered. When it comes to benefits and opportunities, they should be rewarded in kind.
Review job design
Employers should look closely at job design to ensure people are given a reasonable workload for their allocated working hours.
If employees are consistently having to work self-imposed longer hours to sufficiently carry out their role, then maybe they’re simply having to do too much.