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Flexible working conditions 'lead to overtime'

March 5, 2019

Work from home? Flexible hours? Sounds ideal, right? A German foundation has shown that more flexible working conditions lead to increased total hours on the job. Home office is a hot topic for the Social Democrats.

A woman speaks on the phone in a business suit while sitting with a young girl who is holding a teddy bear (Colourbox)
Image: Colourbox

Variable work hours and the ability to work from home lead to more hours worked overall in a job, a study published Tuesday by the Hans Böckler Foundation in Germany has shown.

The issue of flexible working conditions is prominent politically at the national level, with Labor Minister Hubertus Heil of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) pushing for the right to work from home.

What the study found

  • Men and women with children use flexible working conditions differently.
  • Work flexibility tends to lead to noticeably more overtime for men than for women: Given flexible work hours, men work four extra hours per week and women work almost one, while when working from home, men worked six extra hours and women one.
  • For women with children, work flexibility sees them spend more time caring for children, a total of three extra hours per week for women working from home and 1.5 hours for those with flexible work times.
  • However, partially or fully flexible work hours for fathers led to less time spent on childcare per week, while home office made no difference.
  • Flexible work arrangements lead to less free time for both mothers and fathers.

Entrenching gender roles?

"Work flexibility helps make job and family more compatible, but it can simultaneously cement the classic role divisions between men and women, or even make them stronger," said Yvonne Lott, a researcher in gender and work at the Hans Böckler Foundation's Institute of Economic and Social Research and the study's author.

The double burden for women of working and caring for children is negligible for men, Lott added.

Lott said she supported the SPD's move to establish the right to work from home while suggesting other policy changes to help engage fathers more in childcare and improve general work arrangements.

How sustainable is the digital way of life?

How was the study organized?

Lott evaluated data from a representative survey of around 30,000 German mothers and fathers from 2003 to 2016. The flexible work conditions included working from home, as well as partially or totally self-determined work hours. She examined how these conditions were tied to childcare, job overtime and free-time activities including sleep.

What is the Hans Böckler Foundation?

The Hans Böckler Foundation supports workers having a greater say in shaping their work organizations. It is close to the unions in Germany, which also tend to support the SPD.

Read more: Is working from home out of fashion?

cmb/rt (dpa, KNA, epd)

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