Government efforts to promote flexibility and family-friendly working hours may be having a beneficial impact on the amount of time we get to enjoy our closest relationships. That is the conclusion of research by Dr Mark Bryan of the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) and Dr Almudena Sevilla Sanz of Queen Mary, University of London.
Campaigners for more flexible working arrangements have long argued that they are not only beneficial for employees by making work more compatible with their other responsibilities. They also benefit employers, making it easier to recruit and retain staff and to encourage greater commitment and productivity.
The previous government responded in 2003 by legislating for a ‘right to request flexible working’ for parents of children under the age of six and disabled children under 18. In 2007, the legislation was extended to people caring for adults; and in 2009, to parents of all children under 17.
Responses to a survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development indicate that although the legislation was primarily intended to support employees’ caring commitments, flexible working has led many people to report an improvement in their work-life balance. But most previous research has looked at evidence from the point of view of individuals rather than couples or households.
The ISER study looks at two key elements of work-life balance: the amount of time that people have available for non-work activities; and, significantly, their ability to co-ordinate their non-work times with others.
Using data on couples from the British Household Panel Survey, the researchers have analysed the daily timings for the members of each couple and their access to flexible working. The results show that couples with flexible working arrangements are able to arrange for more overlap and can thus spend more time together.
This increase in ‘synchronous time’ amounts to an average of half an hour more time together each day. Parents who can work flexibly have even more overlap: an hour more synchronous time every day.
Dr Bryan says:
“We find that the introduction of flexible working gives a boost to the amount of time that couples can potentially spend together, even after taking account of the different kinds of work that they do. For couples not already in jobs with convenient work schedules, the additional control over work times that flexible working brings appears to be a tangible benefit in helping them to organise their lives.”