Get Flexible for Engagement and Gender Equality
One of the ladies in our office alerted me to the fact that there is a significant opportunity to improve equality for women by improving opportunities for men. Sounds counterintuitive hey? Well two positives can make a positive, believe me. This is all about creating an environment where men have the opportunity to be more engaged. Not only engaged in the workspace, but in their personal space, specifically in families and relationships. It’s about recognising, that now more than ever, there is a generational shift in men’s attitudes. In many cases, it’s no longer about pushing them into sharing the domestic space/responsibilities, research says they want to be there. They want to be part of their children’s lives and to watch them growing up from a closer more intimate proximity. But research also suggests that men are keeping this desired shift a guarded secret and probably for the wrong reasons. More open and transparent communication could just open up a can of highly desirable worms.
A significant change in flexible workplace practices and our attitude to them, could also create greater opportunities for women by debunking some associated stigmas with these practices. Stigmas like, we can’t afford to resource these practices, they will lead to poor client service, they interfere with team interactions and many more.
If we can make flexible work practices work for women, then why not men. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and in fact the whole flock. It would give men the opportunity to share in domestic responsibilities (some may say it will remove the excuses). In turn, it could create the flexibility for women to partake in more employment opportunities.
According to the Australian Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA):
“Many men do not conform to the ideal ‘full-time’ worker model and instead have a range of priorities and aspirations…
Research also shows that workplace flexibility is a key driver of employment decisions and job performance for both women and men, including young men, male managers, men approaching retirement and especially young fathers.” (WGEA)
If you’ve had an opportunity to read my previous post, Gender Equality – What’s in a name, you’ll be aware that I have two daughters of university age and a working wife. I am one of Australia’s 63% of fathers with dependent children living at home who has a working wife/partner.
My wife has been in the workforce all of our married life. She is a nurse and works shifts. Given the nature of her work, her shifts are far from flexible. You can’t down tools and walk out of the operating suite to go to a kindergarten concert and the lack of staff resources makes it difficult to organise to cover a shift. Looking back over the last 20 years, as my girls were growing up, I guess I would have liked to have had formally agreed flexible arrangements at times. I was lucky to have held positions that were autonomous and gave me a degree of flexibility when I really needed it. This was not a formal arrangement however. For many people, the nature of their work may simply not be conducive to flexibility.
For myself, and I guess for many men, there is also a sense of guilt if you don’t show up for 9 to 5 (or equivalent) because that’s the culture you have grown up with. How many times do you hear men or women say (unnecessarily so), “I am heading off an hour early today, to do… etc”, with the immediate and defensive accompanying justification “but I was in a couple of hours early this morning…or… I worked a few hours over the weekend.”
The WGEA says that 54% of all couple families, now have both partners in work. This means, that where for example,there are children, there is an opportunity to address a whole new set of needs arising from this changed working demographic. How do we change the workplace to embrace societies desire for fathers to take a greater role in the everyday lives of their children.
“In tandem with this, men’s (and particularly fathers’) needs have also changed, but employers have not kept up with these changes, and as a consequence have been unresponsive to men’s and fathers’ needs.” (WGEA)
I am not suggesting that men don’t already have the option of flexibility in the work place in many instances. However, I would suggest that the reality is that there might still be a culture that associates the “genuine” need for flexibility with women, not men, particularly in those more traditionally macho work environments.
The WGEA’s recent survey of nearly 3000 Australians demonstrated that a lot less men requested flexible work arrangements from their employer, 24.2% versus 17.3%. We can’t automatically assume that the respondents were all coupled families with children and as such had consistent motivations for requiring flexible work arrangements; however, it is likely that vast majority were. That being the case, the results would suggest that men are probably less inclined to feel a right to flexible hours for family commitments. Conversely, of course, they may not have as strong a commitment to the family activity the flexible hours are required for, (research from the current male population would contradict that however). This would suggest, that many women may still be left by default to carry responsibility for non-work related commitments during work hours, therefore making the need for flexible arrangements more gender specific and shaping our perception of this demand. I doubt there is much argument there.
In addition the survey said that:
“A significant number of men (24.8%) did not request flexibility despite not being content with their current work arrangements, and having a preference to work fewer hours. Men (17.4%) were also much more likely than women (9.8%) to have their request for flexibility declined.
The DCA research also found that a significant number of men desire greater access to flexible work than they currently experience and this is especially the case for young men. DCA found:
- 79% of young fathers would prefer to choose their start and finish times but only 41% actually currently do.
- 79% of young fathers prefer to work a compressed work-week but only 24% actually do.
- 56% of young fathers would prefer to work part of their regular hours at home while only 13% actually do.
- Overall, men’s preferred forms of flexible work included increased opportunities to choose their start and finish times (64%), work a compressed week (56%), work some regular hours at home (34%), and work part-time (20%).” (WGEA)
Flexible workplace practices for both genders, where possible, represent a huge opportunity for employee engagement. Flexible work practices must be clearly communicated not only in policy but in implementation and practice. In order to break down associated stigmas that might be associated with men or women working flexible hours, extraordinary effort to support policies and practices would be necessary to shift culture.
Men having the opportunity to take a greater role in the domestic aspects of relationships undoubtedly leads to greater harmony at home. There is plenty of research to support that. When you’re under pressure and unhappy at work, it impacts how you feel at home. We all know that the old adage of “we leave work at work” is rubbish. Ok, so you may go home and not talk about what’s happened, but you sure as heck take a bag full of your emotions with you. If your time constrained, then the first thing you lose is often your focus on equality in the home. If your work is impacting your personal life, then of course you develop resentment for work and the first thing you do is to disengage. People who are stuck in this challenging cycle struggle to be satisfied let alone engaged and as a result employers will not get the discretionary effort you might otherwise expect. The other very important and expensive negative impact is of course attrition. Often these employees may leave seeking a more accommodating environment.
Lets finish with these interesting study results as the final food for thought.
“Work performance. Flexibility has been shown to contribute to improved work performance. For instance:
High performers set work boundaries. A study of 60 men employed in a prestigious consulting firm identified that men who shared a high commitment to work but bounded their availability to work (e.g., by being home at night to have family meals, not working on weekends etc.), were in fact the highest performers based on independently obtained performance evaluation data.” (WGEA)
References: – Dr Graeme Russell, 2013 Engaging Men in Flexible Working Arrangements – Australian Government, Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA)
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