Is male demand for flexibility driving the normalisation of flexible working?

Men want flexible working almost as much as women, and have fewer reservations about asking for it.

9th Dec 2021

LONDON, MARCH 2021. According to a 2021 YouGov survey of office workers commissioned by Flexa, 68% of men say that flexible working is important to them, versus 74% of women. By comparison, in 2019, a survey conducted by Capability Jane showed that 52% of men and 80% of women wanted flexibility in their next role. 

Whilst female demand has actually dropped slightly during the pandemic, the demand from men has increased by 30%. This is a remarkable shift, and could be driven by a number of reasons, including:

  • Men are less likely to have personal circumstances where flexibility is a non-negotiable. Therefore, before the pandemic, they were less likely to have worked flexibly. Men, upon starting a new job, are now as likely as women to ask for flexible working (55% of men would ask vs 56% of women). 
  • Men were worried about how they would be perceived. Society’s depiction of the traditional “male breadwinner” image certainly didn’t include working from home. The pandemic has clearly changed this perception, as men are more likely than women to state there is no reason not to ask their employer for the option to work flexible hours or work from home (33% vs. 27%). 
  • Women have had to bear the lion’s share of the caring burden during the pandemic, and therefore combining working from home and homeschooling children has actually led to a more inflexible life. We expect the demand for flexibility from women to return to previous levels once the pandemic is over. 

With  one quarter (24%) of respondents whose job is desk based saying that they would not ask for flexible working if it wasn’t offered, it is clear that employees do not want to have to ask for flexibility. Women are most concerned that they will be perceived as working less hard (38%) if they ask to work flexibly, whereas men are most concerned that asking for flexible working will negatively impact career progression (36%). 

Instead, there is a strong preference for flexibility to be mentioned upfront in a job description - 71% of people are more likely to apply for a role that directly mentions flexible working. 

With more men demanding flexible working arrangements, we expect to see the numbers of companies offering permanent flexible working to increase. Women have been campaigning for more flexibility for decades, yet the uptake of flexible working was slow until the pandemic forced working from home. As a result, the belief that flexible working was “just for mums” has been repudiated. 

For years, society has viewed flexible working as a women’s issue. Now it’s everyone’s issue.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2018 adults, of which 837 were office workers and whose job is desk based. Fieldwork was undertaken between 4th - 5th February 2021.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

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