Almost a third of fathers in the UK are unaware that they are eligible for flexible employment arrangements such as part-time work or job sharing, new research says.
The lack of awareness was strongest among working-class men, who may not understand that they have the right to flexible arrangements, even as they work during the pandemic.
All employees who have worked for at least six months in a job have the right to ask for flexible working arrangements, and employers can only refuse if they have a good business reason.
Five researchers analysed responses by 3,072 mothers and 2,862 fathers in 2015 to a survey asking if they knew that flexible working arrangements were offered at their place of work.
In an article in Work, Employment and Society journal, published by the British Sociological Association, the researchers found that:
- Overall, 10% of mothers and 30% of fathers did not know that they could by rights request flexible working arrangements.
- In the case of part-time work alone, 58% of fathers did not know that they might be eligible, compared with 22% of mothers.
- 81% of fathers did not know they were eligible for a job-share, compared with 70% of mothers.
The data was then adjusted to study the effects of occupations, education and union presence in isolation by the researchers: Dr Rose Cook, of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London, Professor Margaret O’Brien, UCL Institute of Education, Professor Sara Connolly and Dr Matthew Aldrich, University of East Anglia, and Dr Svetlana Speight, NatCen.
They found that fathers in lower supervisory and technical occupations were more than twice as likely to be unaware that working reduced hours was available, compared to professional or managerial fathers. Those who worked in organisations without a union presence were almost twice as likely not to know as those who do.
“A conditional right to request flexible working arrangements has existed for most UK employee parents since 2003, however, there are growing concerns about access, particularly among fathers,” the article says.
“Even though most employees now have the right to request flexible working arrangements, a significant minority of fathers do not perceive flexible working arrangements to be available to them.
“The disparity between mothers and fathers and the relatively low perceived availability among fathers is striking.”
Many employers were also unaware of their workers’ rights, said the article. “Many parents would like to work flexibly. Yet, recent evidence suggests that only around a quarter of managers know that employees can request this. Moreover, it is currently not mandatory to advertise flexible working arrangements.”
Speaking about the research study, Dr Cook said that although the data related to 2015, the situation was likely to be similar today, and that ensuring employees know their rights to reduced or flexible working was particularly important given the risks of working in proximity to colleagues.
“There is little evidence that scheduling and hours have been made more flexible during the pandemic to the same extent that working from home has been adopted.
“The Covid-19 crisis has shown us it is possible to make huge changes to working practices rapidly and at scale – let’s make hours reduction for fathers part of this conversation.”
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- All employees are entitled to request flexible working arrangements. Employers must have a sound business reason for rejecting a request. However, self-employed workers are excluded, and employees must have worked for their employer continuously for 26 weeks before applying.
- The researchers used data collected for the 2015 wave of the Understanding Society survey in the UK on parents who were employees (not self-employed) and who had children aged 16 or less. Each participant was asked: ‘I would like to ask about working arrangements at the place where you work. If you personally needed any, which of the arrangements listed on the card are available at your workplace?’ The options given on the card were: flexi-time, part-time working, working a compressed week, to work from home on a regular basis, working term-time only, job sharing, to work annualised hours, other flexible working arrangements, none of these.
- The article is entitled ‘Fathers’ perceptions of the availability of flexible working arrangements: evidence from the UK’ and appears in Work, Employment and Society journal, published by the British Sociological Association and SAGE.
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