Men want flexibility but they’re not taking it. Can you blame them?
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Men are fathers, carers, friends, community volunteers and people who appreciate a life outside of work just like women. So it should be no surprise that just like women, men want to access flexible working conditions.
But then it's also no surprise that the uptake of flexible work by men is still small, and often limited to informal 'flextime' and ad hoc working from home that's structured around how we've traditionally defined full-time work, according to Diversity Council of Australia data outlined in a new report this week from DCA and partner Westpac.
The report highlights the huge discrepancies between men who want to access flexible work, and those actually doing so, particularly among young fathers. Almost 80% of young fathers said they would prefer to select their work day start and end times, but only 41% said they currently do. A similar majority said they would prefer a compressed work week, but only 24% actually access such an arrangement. And more than half of young fathers said they would prefer to work regular hours at home or part-time, but just 13% of those fathers actually do.
According to DCA, it's largely the responsibility of employers to ensure their workplaces are structured to facilitate flexible work, and that men do not fear career penalties associated with accessing such options.
Earlier this week, I heard the story of a woman in a law firm being told by a male colleague she was lucky to be able to request part-time work in order to care for young children on her days off. He too had the option to make such a request, but believed doing so would put a difficult-to-erase black mark against his career ambitions. It's not uncommon. And as the data from DCA shows, plenty of young fathers would love to work flexibly, but either don't have the opportunity, or don't feel they can ask to do so.
And who can blame them? There are very few male leaders who have taken up flexible work arrangements in a meaningful way, meaning there are few role models men can look to as examples of how success and part time work can coexist. And when those at the top of organisations continue to avoid accessing such arrangements themselves the message to staff is subtle, but clear: flexible arrangements may be on offer, but it's the employees who continue their long hours in the office who'll climb the corporate ladder.
This shouldn't be the case. As DCA's data and other research shows, men working flexibly are more likely to be engaged and contribute. They reported to be more effective in their jobs, have higher work performance and were less troubled by being overworked. All excellent attributes for excelling up the corporate ladder. They also reported lower levels of stress.
The DCA's report is called Get Flexible! Mainstreaming Flexible Work in Australia Business and was done in partnership with Westpac, and with supporting sponsors Stockland, Origin and law firm Allens. It offers a valuable contribution for how flexible work and careers can become the norm for men, rather than merely an option for women with young children, and provides organisations with a number of excellent strategies for creating an environment that supports flexible work.
The key leadership representatives from each of those sponsoring organisations, including Westpac's Gail Kelly, Origin's Grant King, Stockland's Michael Rosmarin and Allens' Michael Rose offered their thoughts on the importance of creating a flexible working cultures in a press release issued with the report, and noted the benefits of creating such practices within their own firms.
They should be commended for supporting the report and highlighting the benefits of such practices within their own organisations. But perhaps a more powerful means to showing the importance of flexible work would be to demonstrate its value by accessing such arrangements themselves, and/or at least doing more to reiterate when they've worked flexibly in the past.
After all, helping men access flexible work will come from the report's key word, 'mainstreaming'. Leaders are in the best position to set the example.
Is it difficult for men to request flexible work? Can leaders to more? Leave your thoughts below.