Gender discrepancies in the outcomes of schedule control

Workplace flexibility is lauded by organisations for its contribution to high-performance and creating more inclusive workplaces (Ortega, 2009).
For employees, research has shown that flexible working practices can have both positive and negative impacts, ranging from greater work-life balance and increased income (Michel, Kotrba, Mitchelson, Clark & Baltes, 2011)to increased over-time and work intensity (Kelliher & Anderson, 2010). One example of workplace flexibility is schedule control, a practice which enables an employee to control when as well as the amount of work done. This can assist employees to schedule work to match times of high productivity, and to balance work/family needs.

Dr Yvonne Lott (Hans-Bockler Foundation, Germany) and Dr Heejung Chung (University of Kent, UK) sought to examine whether men and women receive the same financial rewards when they gain more control over their work hours. Using survey data from more than 30,000 individuals in Germany, Lott and Chung found that when working full-time, men and women invest the same amount of additional hours in overtime, however men gain more than three times more pay per annum than women for extra hours worked.

In essence, the lure of changing from a fixed schedule of work to one with more control is associated with financial benefits, but those benefits are not distributed equally between men and women.

Aim

The research aimed to examine the gendered outcomes of the use of schedule control focusing on both increased income and increased overtime.

Method

Data were obtained through an annual survey conducted by the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) encompassing a representative sample of 12,000 German households and approximately 32,000 individuals. The research analysed responses from individuals who were employed, with contracted working hours, relating to measures of overtime, income, and type of working-time arrangements for individuals. Relationships between these variables and genders were examined to identify potential differences.

By way of background context, in Germany women are more likely than men to work part-time, 37.8 per cent of women worked part time in 2012, and experience pay inequity, 18.7 per cent in 2009 (OECD, 2013). In the sample studied, 95% of men were working full-time.

Findings

The two main findings emerging from the research were: (1) Both men and women undertake similar overtime hours when given control over their working schedules, and (2) Women benefit significantly less than men from increased income as a result of schedule control.

1. Both men and women undertake similar overtime hours when given schedule control

An initial analysis of the data suggested that men had a higher propensity than women to work overtime. However, this finding was impacted by the fact that 40% of women surveyed were working part-time (where schedule control has less of an effect on increased overtime). When comparing only men and women working full-time, women increased their overtime to a similar extent as men when changing from fixed schedules to flexitime. “Both full-time working men and women seem to undertake a similar amount of additional overtime hours, when given schedule control and time boundaries are relaxed or missing”, said the researchers.

2. Women benefit significantly less than men from increased income as a result of schedule control

Schedule control was found to lead to overall income gains for both men and women: “employees with flexitime and working-time autonomy earn about 2,800 euros and 6,200 euros more, respectively, compared to those with fixed schedules”, said the researchers. However, in most cases women were found to have a lower relative level of income gain compared to men. Specifically, the research found that men with working-time autonomy earn almost 6,700 euros more per year than those with fixed schedules when taking overtime into account. Women, by contrast, benefit significantly less by having working-time autonomy, earning only around 2,000 euros more compared to those with fixed schedules.

The researchers suggested that this was partially due to women using schedule control for purposes outside of work. While men were purported to primarily use schedule control for promotions or to increase work performance, it was suggested women used this flexibility to meet outside of work demands such as family obligations. In addition it was identified that employer biases may influence the intended effect of schedule control such that women who use this to increase work performance may be wrongly perceived as trying to make room for family demands.

Implications

These findings define the two key risks associated with greater working time autonomy: increased overtime and reinforcement of the gender income pay gap. It seems likely that the risk of overtime is expected by employees anticipating a move from fixed to autonomous schedules, but the gender disparity is probably hidden.

In addition to shared financial motivations, the authors suggest that women are more likely than men to seek-out a change from fixed to autonomous scheduling in order to gain a higher level of control over work/life balance (and particularly parenting responsibilities). On this basis, women may accept the trade-off of overtime for control.

Nevertheless, the authors also suggest that managerial and organisational biases may influence wage disparities. “Beyond workers own motivations, this discrepancy may be due to employers’ discriminatory perceptions. Thus, even when women use schedule control for performance goals and increase their overtime hours and/or work intensity when gaining schedule control, their efforts might not be perceived as such by employers who might hold traditional gender role ideals”, said the authors.

Checks and balances will help organisations to ensure that stereotypes do not influence financial rewards, particularly those which reinforce and magnify pay inequity.

While flexible working arrangements can provide many positive benefits for employees and organisations alike, this research shows that the story isn’t as simple as it seems. Constantly challenging and reflecting on the effects of social norms will ensure organisations don’t unwittingly disadvantage a group of individuals through what are intended as inclusive practices. A deeper understanding of the differing impacts between genders will be vital in ensuring organisations are truly moving towards a more inclusive workplace.

For more information, contact Justin Barcelon (jbarcelon@deloitte.com.au)
To read the full article, see Lott, Y. and Chung, H., (2016). Gender discrepancies in the outcomes of schedule control on overtime hours and income in Germany. European Sociological Review, 32(6), pp.752-765.

References:
  • Ala-Mursula, L., Vahtera, J., Pentti, J., & Kivimäki, M. (2004). Effect of employee worktime control on health: a prospective cohort study. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 61(3), 254-261.
  • Allen, T. D., Johnson, R. C., Kiburz, K. M., & Shockley, K. M. (2013). Work–family conflict and flexible work arrangements: Deconstructing flexibility. Personnel Psychology, 66(2), 345-376.
  • Kelliher, C., & Anderson, D. (2010). Doing more with less? Flexible working practices and the intensification of work. Human relations, 63(1), 83-106.
  • Michel, J. S., Kotrba, L. M., Mitchelson, J. K., Clark, M. A., & Baltes, B. B. (2011). Antecedents of work–family conflict: A meta‐analytic review. Journal of organizational behavior, 32(5), 689-725.
  • OECD Labour Force Statistics 2013, available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/oecd_ifs-2013-en
  • OECD LMF1.5: Gender Pay Gaps for Full-time Workers and Earnings Differentials by Educational Attainment, available from: http://www.oecd.org/els/soc/LMF1.5%20Gender%20pay%20gaps%20for%20full%20time%20workers%20-%20updated%20290712.pdf [accessed 25 July 2015].
  • Ortega, J. (2009). Why do employers give discretion? Family versus performance concerns. Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society, 48(1), 1-26.

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