Flexible working more popular with male employees since lockdown, survey finds

Widespread home working has lessened the stigma around men requesting non-conventional arrangements, say experts

Flexible working has become more popular with male employees since the beginning of lockdown, according to a study of employers.

In the poll of 26 UK employers, conducted by Working Families in September, two-thirds (68 per cent) reported male parents and carers had shown more interest in flexible working since the pandemic hit.

The survey also showed a general leap forward in flexible working during the pandemic compared to pre-Covid. While just under half (49 per cent) of organisations said that at least half of their staff flexed their hours before the crisis, this jumped to 85 per cent during the coronavirus crisis. 

Additionally, before the pandemic only a quarter (25 per cent) of employers said half their staff worked partly remotely, but this increased to 84 per cent of during lockdown. 

HR consultant Steve Carpenter attributed the increase in popularity of flexible working among male staff to a loosening of the stigma facing men requesting flexible hours pre-pandemic. “Men who looked to go part time, or ask to work from home more regularly, for example, have to challenge gender norms,” said Carpenter. “There was a stigma around flexible working, especially for male employees, and reports found it is less ‘culturally acceptable’ for men to work flexibly.” 

He added that the negative association between flexible working and career progression for their female counterparts often dissuaded men from taking up the benefit, whereas now widespread home working for all types of employee had lessened such concerns.

Jane van Zyl, chief executive of Working Families, said that while lockdown was a challenging time for many working parents and carers, a “silver lining” had emerged. Employers had realised flexible working arrangements were possible in “more jobs than they had ever considered before”, she said, adding that she encouraged other employers to “follow their example and harness the gains” flexible working offered. 

The figures also showed that many organisations planned to continue flexible working when the pandemic came to an end. Two-thirds (67 per cent) of employers planned to allow most staff to continue flexing their hours, and nearly three-quarters (71 per cent) expected to allow most employees to work at least partly remotely. 

This trend also extended to future hiring plans, with more than half of employers (52 per cent) expecting to make flexible working available in all roles, and a fifth (19 per cent) expecting to mention this at recruitment stage.  

Carpenter added the pandemic had evidenced a range of benefits from flexible working such as improved wellbeing, better work-life balance and increased productivity. “The importance of family time has really become apparent and employers have seen this can be achieved without affecting business productivity,” said Carpenter.

He added that “companies that do not look to continue with a flexible approach to working patterns will suffer in terms of talent acquisition and retention”.