National Post

Thursday, January 14, 1999

Flexible work hours found to harm family life
Spouses always apart

Aisling Irwin
The Daily Telegraph

Flexible work hours, the modern panacea for social ills, is disrupting family life, says a British academic.

A culture of more variable hours and night or weekend work has led to many parents taking turns looking after their children. They save on child-care costs but never see each other, a study has found.

"Flexible working is widely advocated as a way of resolving the unemployment problem, maintaining economic competitiveness, enhancing equal opportunities between women and men, and allowing the reconciliation of paid work and family life," Dr. Diane Perrons of the London School of Economics told a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society.

She studied retail companies across Europe, including 40 in Britain. She found that the term was generally understood to mean a flexibility of hours, which was of great benefit to employers.

Reformers had originally meant it to mean employees would have flexibility to perform many different jobs and receive training throughout their lives. Her work revealed that people welcomed flexible work hours because they felt it gave them choices.

Women could, for example, work unusual hours to care for children.

"They find this work very attractive," she said. "They see it as a way of combining it with family life in the context of there being very little child care."

But it did not promote greater equality in the workplace and financial independence for women, Dr. Perrons said.

In reality, wages for flexible workers were often too low for independence. And women tended to take jobs with few promotion prospects because their priority was to find the right hours.