Employers take note: men want flexible working too!
28 August 2012

Australian men want and need access to flexible working to support their important roles as fathers, carers and engaged volunteers in their communities, but their uptake of flexible working is limited and most commonly involves informal ‘flextime’ and ad hoc working from home structured around full-time work, according to research released by Diversity Council Australia today on men and flexible working.

The report, titled Men Get Flexible! Mainstreaming Flexible Work in Australian Business, produced in partnership with Westpac and supporting sponsors Stockland, Origin and Allens, demonstrates that flexible work can generate positive outcomes for men, women, families and organisations. It also contains an innovative framework for action for employers to increase men’s engagement in flexible work and thus help to move flexible work from the margins to the mainstream.

Nareen Young, DCA’s CEO said the findings reveal a significant number of men desire greater access to flexible work and this is especially the case for young fathers:

“Having the flexibility to manage family and personal life was one of the five most highly valued job characteristics for men, and for young fathers it was the third highest. As more men are now part of dual-earner families and are expected to be involved in parenting and family, we need to consider how we can support the contribution men and fathers make to individual, family and social well-being.

“Organisations can play a key role – in addition to government, community and families themselves – in facilitating this through making flexible work and careers standard business practice rather than merely the domain of mothers with young children,” said Ms Young.

Men can be reluctant to use flexible work for fear of career penalties, explained Ms Young:

“Organisations need to foster an organisational culture that is more supportive of flexible work for men, one that pro-actively encourages men to engage in flexible work. Providing senior male role models who work flexibly and using fatherhood as a pathway to greater access will assist.

“It is especially important for men to be engaged in leading organisational change on mainstreaming flexibility because leadership roles are disproportionately held by men. While this isn’t the ‘silver bullet’ for delivering on diversity, flexibility and gender equality objectives, it will be very helpful in changing attitudes to flexible working,” said Ms Young.

Key findings

The findings draw on academic and industry studies on men and flexibility, in addition to new findings from DCA’s Get Flexible! and Working for the Future research as outlined below:

Why flexibility is important:

  • Demographics have changed and more men in the workforce are now experiencing higher levels of demand in terms of balancing their work and family/personal commitments.
    • 64% of fathers had a partner in the paid workforce, and 31% had elder care responsibilities.
  • There is considerable diversity amongst men and many now do not conform to the ideal ‘full-time’ worker model and have different priorities and aspirations (e.g. to be active fathers).
  • Workplace flexibility is a key driver of employment decisions for men, including young men, men approaching retirement and especially men who are both younger and are fathers.
    • Having the flexibility to manage family/personal life was in the top five job characteristics for all men, and for young fathers, it was the third most highly valued job characteristic.
    • 18% of men indicated that they had seriously considered leaving their organisation because of a lack of flexibility. Young fathers and men under 35 years of age without caring responsibilities were much more likely to indicate this – 37% and 29% respectively.
  • Men who have the flexibility that meets their work and family/personal needs are more likely to be engaged and to contribute their discretionary effort.
  • Men who have greater access to flexible work that results in a reduction of either work/life conflict or reduced work to family/personal life spillover:
    • Are more effective in their jobs, report higher work performance, are less troubled by work overload, take fewer risks that can compromise productivity and are absent for fewer days; and
    • Have lower levels of personal stress and burnout and work-life interference or conflict.
  • Fathers who have greater workplace flexibility experience lower levels of work to family conflict, and higher quality parenting and family relationships.
  • Active fathering has been found to relate to higher quality family relationships, the psychological well-being of men and to gender equality both in domestic work and in paid employment.

How involved men really are in flexible working:

  • A significant number of men desire greater access to flexible work than they currently experience and this is especially the case for young fathers.
    • 79% of young fathers would prefer to choose their start and finish times but only 41% actually currently do. Similarly, 79% of young fathers prefer to work a compressed work week and only 24% actually do. Again, 56% of young fathers would prefer to work part of regular hours at home while only 13% actually do.
  • More men are interested in ‘flextime’, compressed work-weeks and working from home than in part-time work.
    • 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%).
  • More men tend to ‘tinker’ with flexible work. Very few currently work part-time (and very few desire this as an option), and very few take extended leave at the time of a child’s birth or adoption.
    • 79% of men access informal flextime, 41% formal flextime, 16% work part-time, 13% regularly from home and 11% a compressed week.
    • 75% said that they had taken time off work after their youngest child’s birth or adoption. For 83% of these, they took less than six weeks off; 7% took six weeks off; and 9% took more time off than this.  Of these, 51% took this leave on full pay; 10% on partial pay; and 33% took the leave without pay.

What organisations can do to engage men in flexible working:

  1. Flexibility reframed: Emphasise the business case for men to engage in flexible work and broaden the definition of flexibility to include full-time work self-managed flexibly, and formal, informal and dynamic flexible work.
  2. Diversity amongst men: Structure work in multiple ways to respond to the diversity amongst men in terms of age, cultural background, life-stage, nature of work, sexual orientation, work-life priorities and so on.
  3. Culture: Foster an organisational culture that is supportive of flexible work for men, pro-actively encouraging men to engage in flexible work and providing opportunities for men to share their experiences of flexible work.
  4. Leadership: Develop and publicise senior male role models of flexible work to break the perception that senior roles = no flexibility.
  5. New model of success: Address men’s reluctance to use flexible work for fear of career penalties by designing new roles with flexibility as standard, integrating flexibility into senior roles and illustrating ‘success stories’.
  6. Team-focus: Recognise that success in integrating flexible work hinges on the relationship between individuals and their teams, and build flexibility into standard team-based operating procedures.
  7. Fatherhood: Utilise fatherhood as an effective entry to integrate flexibility and reduce gender differences in accessing flexible work, and focus on a long-term approach beyond parental leave.

Partner Westpac and supporting sponsors Stockland, Origin and Allens explained why they support DCA’s report and men working flexibly:

“We are very pleased to be partnering with Diversity Council Australia. Flexibility at work has been a key area of focus for us and a source of competitive advantage. This important companion report to DCA’s ‘Get Flexible’ research acknowledges the pivotal role men play in promoting flexibility in the workplace. It recognises that men and women have similar requirements when it comes to working flexibly. At Westpac Group we know flexibility is a key ingredient for creating the agile and diverse workplace needed to both serve our customers and ensure the wellbeing of our employees. Flexibility of work schedule, workplace and work design will be critical success factors for the future of Australian workplaces. Dynamic organisations will be the leaders of this change,” said Gail Kelly, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Westpac.

“One of the top reasons that employees work at Stockland is the ability to uphold personal responsibilities, whilst continuing to develop a successful career with us. We know that offering a flexible working environment is a central to this, and it helps us to attract and retain the best talent. With our ongoing commitment to diversity, flexibility and equal employment opportunity, we are proud to be involved in this forward-thinking project,” said Michael Rosmarin, Group Executive Strategy and HR, Stockland.

“At Origin, we recognise that flexibility can mean a range of arrangements for men and women and employees at different stages of their careers. Reports such Diversity Council Australia's Men Get Flexible! play a crucial role in broadening the flexible work discussion and helping companies develop inclusive and effective policies,” said Grant King, Managing Director, Origin.

“At Allens our aim is to create a flexible working environment that supports all employees to achieve both career and personal goals. Diversity Council Australia’s Men Get Flexible! research, broadens the flexibility discussion to review the needs of men,” said Michael Rose, Chief Executive Partner, Allens.

DCA members can access the full report co-authored by Dr Graeme Russell and DCA’s Research Director, Dr Jane O’Leary here. Members can also access the latest resources on flexible working on DCA's website - click here to read the Business case for flexible working and see other areas such as leading practice principles and case studies on flexible working.

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