Men want Flexibility too

Report shows men have fewer opportunities for flexible work

Research conducted by the Diversity Council Australia (DCA) has shown that men need and want more access to formalised opportunities to work flexibly but fail to ask for fear of suffering career penalties.

The DCA has found that men need access to flexible working to help them balance the non work commitments in their life, such as being a father or carer, volunteering or studying, but their uptake of flexible working is limited and most commonly involves informal ‘flextime’ and working from home on the occasional basis, around their full-time work load.

The DCA’s report titled: Men Get Flexible! Mainstreaming Flexible Work in Australian Business was produced in partnership with Westpac, Stockland, Origin and Allens and argues that flexible work generates positive outcomes for men, women, families and organisations.

DCA’s CEO Nareen Young said that while a significant number of men want more access to flexible work, 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.”

The DCA claims that organisations can play a key role in facilitating this by making flexible work and careers standard business practice rather than a privilege only extended to mothers with young children.

“Men can be reluctant to use flexible work for fear of career penalties. 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 role models who work flexibly and using fatherhood as a pathway to greater access will assist,” said Ms Young.

Ms Young said organisations need to adopt a top down approach to changing perceptions on flexible work for men.

“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.

Why flexibility matters

The DCA research claims that increased desire for flexibility is due in part to the evolved aspirations of Australian men and their changing role in society. Many men want to actively participate in parenting and with the increasing number of women in the workforce this is as much a matter of necessity as of choice.

In addition, the research showed that men who have the flexibility to balance their work and family commitments are more likely to: be engaged, report higher work performance, be less troubled by workloads, take fewer risks that compromise productivity and be absent for fewer days. Men who have greater access to flexible work may also experience lower levels of stress and burnout, lower levels of work/family conflict and better parenting experiences.

Findings on flexibility

  • Most young fathers want more flexibility.
    • 79 per cent of young fathers would prefer to choose their start and finish times but only 41 per cent actually do.
    • 79 per cent of young fathers prefer to work a compressed work week and only 24 per cent actually do.
    • 56 per cent of young dads would prefer to work part of their regular hours at home while only 13 per cent do.
  • Men’s preferred forms of flexible work included increased opportunities to choose their start and finish times (64 per cent), work a compressed week (56 per cent), work some regular hours at home (34 per cent) and work part time (20 per cent).
  • Men tend to tinker with flexible work. Very few currently work part time or want to work part time and very few take extended leave at the time of the birth or adoption of a baby.
    • 79 per cent access informal flextime, 41 per cent formal flextime, 16 per cent work part time, 13 per cent regularly from home and 11 per cent a compressed week.
    • 75 per cent of men said they had taken time off work after the birth or adoption of their youngest child, of these 83 per cent took less than six weeks, 7 per cent took six weeks, 9 per cent took more time than this. Of these 51 per cent took this leave on full pay, 10 per cent on partial pay and 33 per cent took leave without pay.

What can organisations do to engage men in flexible working?

The DCA makes a number of suggestions for organisations wanting to make it easier for men to work flexibly.

  • 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.
  • Diversity among 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.
  • Culture: Foster an organisational culture that is supportive of flexible work for men, proactively encouraging men to engage in flexible work and providing opportunities for men to share their experiences of flexible work.
  • Leadership: Develop and publicise senior male role models of flexible work to break the perception that senior roles=no flexibility.
  • New models 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’.
  • 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.
  • 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.

For more information on the DCA’s research and report click here.


1. WorldatWork Survey on Workplace Flexibility 2011

This Better Workplace Bulletin was First Published in September 2012