Insight

How flexible work hours will benefit Aussie men

27th May, 07:02


Over the past half a century, women’s work has undergone a seismic revolution. Yet the way men work remains stuck in the 1950s—and it's leading to depression, burnout, poor health and family breakdown.

As the coronavirus upends our assumptions about how work works, here's what we hope to see more of in the post-pandemic world.

What are ‘flexible hours’?

Flexible hours takes issue with the nine to five part of Dolly Parton's iconic song, "9 to 5".

Why those hours in particular? And why do we even need to stay at work if all the work has already been done?

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Why do it?

Back when the majority of jobs were in manufacturing, you needed to work a set amount of hours so that the factory managers could calculate how many, let's say, cars could be produced each day.

But office work operates on a very different logic. Output is measured in terms of discrete projects and KPIs. Roles are fluid and the actual work more creative.

The need to be in the office for a set amount of time is, in most cases, absent. Yet while 74 per cent of men say they want access to flexible work arrangements , Australian businesses are lagging.

As of 2016, only half of major Australian employers had a flexible work policy in place.

What’s the issue?

The actual designation of the time between 9am and 5pm as work hours is primarily a result of the US government implementing a 40-hour-work-week for its employees back in 1946.

They needed to pick a standard unit of work time, 9-to-5 won out, and soon enough the policy had been adopted by workplaces all around the world.

Suffice it to say that a lot has changed technologically, economically, socially, and professionally in the intervening 74 years.

However, we're still wedded to that basic formulation of what constitutes full-time work: 9-to-5, five days a week, until you either die or retire.

How can we do it?

One expected change for the post-lockdown, pre-vaccine Covid-19 workplace is going to be staggered start and finish times, so that fewer employees are in the same place at the same time.

Such a move makes sense from a public health perspective, but it's also going to upend the usual justifications for office life. For working families, however, the change may be more fundamental.

Dads who've been blissfully unaware of what goes on in the running of a household might now realise they need to be more involved. (This would be well overdue: a full 60 per cent of dads say they've never used flexible work arrangements to deal with family demands).

But first they'll have to overcome a culture that's suspicious of men who work differently: men report that they're twice as likely as women to have requests for flexible work rejected.

Who's done it already?

The most high profile exponent of flexible work is Richard Branson's Virgin group. Back in 2014, Branson announced that, henceforth, every office-based employee of Virgin would be able to work whenever they wanted, for as long as they wanted, without having to screen it with supervisors or apply for leave.

Need to take a few hours off? Just do it! A three-week holiday in the Bahamas beckoning? You earned it!

For Branson it was all about treating employees as responsible, self-regulating adults who know what good work looks like – and how to ensure it gets done – while still living rich and fulfilling home lives.

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