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Study: Flexi Time Key to Retaining Mothers in Workplace

Flexibility in the workplace is the key to helping women maintain their career trajectory after childbirth, new research by the University of Kent has shown.

The research, led by Dr Heejung Chung, of the University’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, found that women who were able to use flexible working hours were only half as likely to reduce their hours after the birth of their child. This effect was especially the case for women who used flexi time prior to the birth of their child as well as after, the researchers found.

The researchers observed that more than half of women in their study sample reduced their working hours after the birth of their child, while less than a quarter of women who were able to use flexi time reduced their hours.

The study showed that it is the use of flexible working arrangements — rather than perceived access to it — that matters most. The researchers found that “for mothers with newborns, perceived access to flexi time in itself may not be enough to tackle the work-life balance demands they are faced with. The flexibility needs to be enacted to really make a difference.”

This is encouraging research — finally, there are some hard numbers to back up the utility of a policy many employers still eye askance or offer in name only. But there’s still a long way to go. As The Swaddle Team argued in an editorial last year, how flexi time is implemented affects its actual use and usefulness. The presence of senior role models working flexible hours, long-term career planning for flexible junior workers, and proper training for the managers of flexible workers all play into whether job flexibility can actually help retain women in the workplace following the birth of a child. And an often overlooked aspect is the availability of flexi time for dads as well — having a partner who can work flexibly affects whether women can restart work at all — either flexibly or full-time.

We’re glad research is proving flexi time’s importance; we’re looking forward to research that explores how to implement it successfully next.

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