6210.2 - Workforce Participation and Workplace Flexibility,Victoria, Dec 2010 Quality Declaration 
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Contents >> Work-Life Balance, Work Preferences and Flexibility

WORK-LIFE BALANCE, WORK PREFERENCES AND FLEXIBILITY
Employees, and persons not in the labour force on long-term unpaid leave

Work-life balance can be defined as the level of reconciliation between people’s working and personal lives (Pocock et al 2010). Access to flexible arrangements may help employees achieve better work-life balance outcomes, while also encouraging participation by individuals or groups who have differing needs when balancing work with personal responsibilities.

The availability and use of flexible work arrangements can be governed by a number of factors. Workplace culture can often determine the availability of formal or informal flexible work arrangements (Eaton 2003). Similarly, the sector, or industry (such as education, construction or manufacturing) of the workplace, (Zeytinoglu et al 2009), or the nature of the occupation (Eaton 2003), can also impact the availability and use of flexible arrangements.

This chapter examines the work preferences, flexible work arrangements, and work and personal life balance of the Victorian workforce. It focuses particularly on groups which have been highlighted as having potential to increase participation—namely women and mature-age workers—and examines these groups in the context of employment characteristics such as industry and occupation.

WORK-LIFE BALANCE AND FLEXIBILITY

In December 2010, of the 2.2 million employees and people on long-term unpaid leave, 44% (963,700) felt their work and family/social responsibilities were always balanced. A similar proportion (44% or 970,700) felt they were sometimes balanced. Just over one in ten (11% or 232,600) employees felt they rarely or never had work-life balance.

Perceptions of people’s degree of work-life balance were highest for the youngest and oldest age groups (18 to 24 years and 55 years and over). Over half of those in both age groups described their work and family/social responsibilities as always balanced (57% and 51% respectively), compared with 37% of those aged 35 to 44.

Figure 1. WORK-LIFE BALANCE ALWAYS BALANCED
Employees, or persons not in the labour force on long-term unpaid leave, Dec 2010

Figure 1. WORK-LIFE BALANCE ALWAYS BALANCED


The likelihood of requesting changes to work arrangements was lower for those with higher levels of work-life balance. Those who rarely or never had work-life balance were more likely to have requested changes to working arrangements (35%) than those who always (19%) or sometimes (25%) had work-life balance.

Overall, 23% (503,900) of employees and people on long-term unpaid leave had requested a change to work arrangements in the 12 months to December 2010. Of those who requested changes, 18% requested a change of work days, 15% requested a reduction in hours for a limited time, 14% requested to work flexi time, and 14% requested more work or more hours.

Figure 2. TYPE(S) OF REQUESTED CHANGES TO WORK ARRANGEMENTS(a)
Employees, or persons not in the labour force on long-term unpaid leave, Dec 2010

Figure 2. TYPE(S) OF REQUESTED CHANGES TO WORK ARRANGEMENTS
(a) Persons who requested changes to work arrangements in the past 12 months
Note: 'Other' not included in graph


Main reasons for requesting a change to work arrangements included financial reasons, to spend more time with family (both 16%), child care needs and leisure or travel (both 11%).

Figure 3. MAIN REASON FOR MAKING MOST RECENT WORK ARRANGEMENT REQUEST(a)
Employees, or persons not in the labour force on long-term unpaid leave, Dec 2010

Figure 3. MAIN REASON FOR MAKING MOST RECENT WORK ARRANGEMENT REQUEST
(a) Persons who requested changes to work arrangements in the past 12 months


Of requests for changes to work arrangements made in the 12 months to December 2010, 75% (376,700) were approved, while 18% (88,400) were denied. The remainder (7% or 36,100) were either partially approved or were awaiting a decision.

Of those employees and people on long-term unpaid leave who did not request changes to work arrangements, more than three quarters (76%) did not request changes because they were content with current arrangements.

For employees who usually worked 35 hours or more per week, 29% (456,600) said they would prefer to reduce current hours while 68% (1.1 million) said they would not prefer to do so.

Figure 4. WOULD PREFER TO REDUCE CURRENT WORK HOURS(a)
Employees, or persons not in the labour force on long-term unpaid leave, Dec 2010


(a) Persons who usually worked at least 35 hours per week

Married people were more likely to prefer to reduce working hours than unmarried people, with 32% of married males and 37% of females preferring a reduction in work hours. For unmarried people, 17% of males and 27% of females would prefer a reduction in working hours.

For employees who worked 35 hours or more per week and preferred fewer hours of work, 59% cited personal reasons, 20% cited family reasons and 19% employment reasons1.

Barriers to reducing current hours were similar for both males and females. For male employees, 42% said they can't afford a reduction in pay while 35% said they have too much work. Female employees cited similar reasons; 45% said they can’t afford a reduction in pay and 31% said they have too much work.

Figure 5. REASONS FOR NOT BEING ABLE TO WORK FEWER HOURS(a)
Employees, or persons not in the labour force on long-term unpaid leave, Dec 2010

Figure 5. REASONS FOR NOT BEING ABLE TO WORK FEWER HOURS
(a) Persons who usually worked at least 35 hours per week
Note: Graph excludes 'Other' and 'Don't know'.


Work preferences vary by country of birth. Employees who worked 35 hours or more per week and were born in countries other than the main English speaking countries (including Australia) are less likely to prefer to reduce current working hours (20%), compared with those employees born in Australia (30%) and the other English speaking nations (35%).

While the work preferences of female employees were similar for Melbourne and the balance of Victoria (33% and 32% respectively), more male employees in Melbourne would prefer to reduce current hours (28%) than males in the balance of Victoria (23%).

Reasons were similar for both male and female employees in Melbourne and the balance of Victoria in regards to preferring fewer hours1. Personal reasons were cited by 58% of males in Melbourne and 54% in the balance of Victoria, while 61% of females cited personal reasons in both regions.

In Melbourne family reasons and employment reasons were both cited by 20% of males, with similar proportions of males in the balance of Victoria citing these reasons (21% and 20% respectively) . Family reasons were cited by 19% of females in Melbourne and 22% in balance of Victoria, while 18% of females in Melbourne and 14% in balance of Victoria cited employment reasons.

SECTOR, OCCUPATION AND INDUSTRY

Employment characteristics such as sector (public or private), industry and occupation may influence the work preferences, availability and use of flexible work arrangements, and work-life balance for employees.

The majority of employees and people on long-term unpaid leave in both public and private sectors felt their work and private lives were either always balanced (42% for public sector, 44% for private sector) or sometimes balanced (46% for public sector, 44% for private sector).

Regardless of the sector, most employees who worked 35 hours or more per week would not prefer to reduce their current work. In the public sector, 63% of respondents indicated they would not prefer to reduce their hours, and 34% indicated they would. Similarly, 69% of private sector employees would not prefer to reduce their hours, while 27% would.

For employees preferring fewer hours of work, private sector employees were more likely than public sector employees to cite personal reasons (60% and 54% respectively). Public sector employees (27%) were more likely than private (18%) to cite family reasons.

Private sector employees were more likely to cite financial reasons than public sector employees for making the most recent work arrangement request (19% and 8.4% respectively). Public sector employees were more likely than private sector employees to cite child care needs (17% and 10% respectively).

Figure 6. MAIN REASON FOR MOST RECENT REQUEST TO CHANGE WORK ARRANGEMENTS(a)
Employees, or persons not in the labour force on long-term unpaid leave, Dec 2010

Figure 6. MAIN REASON FOR MOST RECENT REQUEST TO CHANGE WORK ARRANGEMENTS
(a) Persons who usually worked at least 35 hours per week
(b) Includes 'Nature of job', 'Better access to shops/banks', and 'Other'.


Of employees from both sectors who made requests, 76% of public sector and 74% of private sector employees indicated their requests were approved.

While most employees indicated their work and personal lives were either always or sometimes balanced, Managers were more likely to feel their work and personal lives were sometimes balanced (50%) as opposed to always balanced (34%).

Figure 7. WORK-LIFE BALANCE AND OCCUPATION(a)
Employees, or persons not in the labour force on long-term unpaid leave, Dec 2010

Figure 7. WORK-LIFE BALANCE AND OCCUPATION
(a) Persons who usually worked at least 35 hours per week


Occupations with the highest proportions of employees requesting changes to work arrangements were Community and Personal Service Workers (28%), Sales Workers (27%), and Professionals (26%). These were higher than proportions for Labourers (16%), and Technicians and Trades Workers (16%). Requests for changes in work arrangements were made by 22% of Managers.

While employees and those on long-term leave in most industries reported their work and personal lives were either always balanced or sometimes balanced, most Construction employees reported their work and personal lives as always balanced (52%, compared with 37% for sometimes balanced), while most Public Administration and Safety employees reported their work and personal lives as sometimes balanced (52%, compared with 39% for always balanced).

Work preferences also varied by industry. Construction employees reported that 75% would not prefer to reduce current working hours. Accommodation and food services employees were similar, with 76% not preferring to reduce current work hours. More than a third of employees in Education and Training (38%) and Financial and Insurance Services (37%) would prefer a reduction in their current working hours.

Figure 8. PREFERENCE FOR REDUCING CURRENT WORKING HOURS: SELECTED INDUSTRIES(a)
Employees, or persons not in the labour force on long-term unpaid leave, Dec 2010

Figure 8. PREFERENCE FOR REDUCING CURRENT WORKING HOURS: SELECTED INDUSTRIES
(a) Persons who usually worked at least 35 hours per week


Industries with the highest proportions of employees requesting changes to work arrangements were Health Care and Social Assistance (32%), Retail Trade (29%), and Arts and Recreation Services (28%).

FAMILIES, AND WOMEN OF CHILD-BEARING AGE

Overall, 45% (470,600) of female employees and females on long-term unpaid leave felt that their work and family/social responsibilities were always balanced. Of the different age groups, the lowest proportion with work and life always balanced was females aged 35 to 44 (38%), and of those who worked full time 29% felt they always had work-life balance. In contrast, just under half of females aged 25 to 34 years felt they always had work-life balance regardless of whether they worked full time or part time (45% and 46% respectively).

Figure 9. LEVEL OF BALANCE BETWEEN WORK AND FAMILY/SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITIES
Female employees, or females not in the labour force on long-term unpaid leave, Dec 2010

Figure 9. LEVEL OF BALANCE BETWEEN WORK AND FAMILY/SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITIES

People living in households with more children were less likely to report high levels of work-life balance than those with fewer or no children. Nearly half (47%) of people without children under 15 years, 41% of those with one child, and 35% of those with two or more children felt their work and social/family responsibilities were always balanced.

Similar proportions of females with children felt they always had work-life balance regardless of whether they were a lone parent (41%) or in a couple family (44%). Males with children, on the other hand, were more likely to always have work-life balance if they were a lone parent (50%) than if they were in a couple family (40%).

Of the 590,300 females who reported usually working 35 hours or more per week, 16% (12,700) of those aged 18 to 24 years reported that they would like to reduce their current working hours. The proportion of females who would like to work fewer hours increased through the age groups, with those aged 45 to 54 years having the highest proportion (43% or 53,700).

More than a third (34% or 80,200) of female employees and females on long-term unpaid leave aged 35 to 44 years had requested changes to work arrangements in the previous 12 months, compared with 26% (63,000) of those aged 45 to 54 and 21% (33,400) aged 55 and over.

Females with children under 15 years of age were more likely to request changes to work arrangements than those with no dependent children. More than a third (35% or 54,000) of those with one child aged under 15 years, and two fifths (42% or 66,500) with two or more children requested changes, compared with less than a quarter (24% or 175,600) of those without children aged under 15 years.

Figure 10. REQUESTS FOR CHANGES TO WORK ARRANGEMENTS: NUMBER OF CHILDREN
Employees, or persons not in the labour force on long-term unpaid leave, Dec 2010

Figure 10. REQUESTS FOR CHANGES TO WORK ARRANGEMENTS: NUMBER OF CHILDREN


Requests for changes to work arrangements by females varied by age group and family type. Similar proportions of females aged 25 to 34 made requests relating to reducing hours or leave2 (37%) and flexibility of hours or location3 (33%). Females aged 35 to 44 were most likely to make a request related to flexibility3, with nearly half (48%) making such a request compared to less than a quarter (24%) requesting reduced hours or leave.

People in couple families with children were more likely to request flexibility3 (42%) over reduced hours or leave2 (28%), while single parents were equally likely to request flexibility3 (36%), leave or a reduction in hours2 (31%), or more hours of work (26%).

Child care needs was the most common reason for employees and people on long-term unpaid leave aged 35 to 44 years to request a change to working arrangements (21%). The next most commonly reported reasons4 for making such requests for those in that age group were to spend more time with family (17%) and financial reasons (15%). Proportions of those aged 25 to 34 years were similar for those having made a request for financial reasons (18%), due to child care needs (13%) or for leisure or travel (12%).

Figure 11. MAIN REASON FOR MOST RECENT WORK ARRANGEMENT REQUEST(a)
Employees, or persons not in the labour force on long-term unpaid leave, Dec 2010


(a) Persons who have requested changes to work arrangements
Note: Graph excludes 'Other', 'Nature of job', and 'Better access to shops/banks'.

MATURE-AGE WORKERS

Australia’s overall participation rate for people aged 55 to 64 is relatively low compared to other advanced industrial nations (Abhayaratna and Lattimore 2006). While some research suggests highly-educated and highly-skilled workers are more likely to remain in the workforce beyond the standard retirement age (Ryan and Sinning 2010), working fewer hours—and in particular a gradual reduction in hours—is a popular option among mature-aged Australians (DPC 2006; Gilfillan and Andrews 2010).

More full-time and part-time employees and people on long-term unpaid leave aged 55 years and over indicated that their work-life balance was always balanced (51%) than sometimes balanced (40%), and 7.3% responded that their lives were rarely balanced or never balanced. Older employees were more likely to respond that their work and personal lives were always balanced than those in other age groups, with the exception of those aged 18 to 24 years (57%).

For employees and those on long-term unpaid leave over 55 years and working 35 hours or more per week, the majority (63%) indicated they would not prefer to reduce current working hours. For those older employees who would prefer fewer hours of work (34%), most (75%) cited personal reasons1 as the main reason for preferring fewer hours of work.

Figure 12. REQUESTS FOR CHANGES TO WORK ARRANGEMENTS(a)
Employees, or persons not in the labour force on long-term unpaid leave, Dec 2010
Figure 12. REQUESTS FOR CHANGES TO WORK ARRANGEMENTS

The majority of mature-age employees did not request a change to work arrangements (82%). For those mature-age employees who did request changes, the reasons cited for making the most recent request included spending more time with family (18%), leisure/travel (17%) and illness to self or family (14%).


Footnotes

1Personal reasons includes: ‘Own ill health/injury/disability’, ‘Only wants/needs limited income’, ‘Study purposes’, ‘Social reasons/Recreational activities/Free time’ and ‘Other personal reasons’. Employment reasons includes: ‘Current job regularly involves long hours’, ‘Work less unpaid overtime’ and ‘Other employment reasons’. Family reasons includes: ‘Caring for children’, ‘Unable to find suitable child care’, ‘Caring for ill/disabled/elderly person’, ‘Pregnancy’, ‘Home duties’ and ‘Other family reasons’.

2 Including reduced hours for a limited period, part time work, purchased annual leave, and leave without pay.

3 Including flexi time, working from home on a regular basis, change of work days, and flexibility to care for family/child.

4 Not including Other reasons, which includes ‘Nature of job’ and ‘Better access to shops/banks’ as well as other uncategorised reasons.



References

Abhayaratna, J., and Lattimore, R., 2006, Productivity Commission Staff Working Paper: Workforce Participation Rates – How Does Australia Compare?, Commonwealth of Australia, online, viewed, 28 June 2011,
<http://www.pc.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/60479/workforceparticipation.pdf>

DPC (Department of the Premier and Cabinet), 2006, Retirement Intentions 2006, Government of Western Australia, online, viewed 28 June 2011,
<http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/apcity/unpan032539.pdf>

Eaton, S., 2003, ‘If You Can Use Them: Flexibility Policies, Organizational Commitment, and Perceived Performance’, Industrial Relations, vol. 42, no. 2, pp. 145-168.

Gilfillan, G., Andrews, L., 2010, Productivity Commission Staff Working Paper: Labour Force Participation of Women over 45. Australian Government, online, viewed 28 June 2011,
<http://www.pc.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/104750/women-over-45.pdf>

Pocock, B., Skinner, N., Pisanello, S., 2010, The Australian Work and Life Index 2010: How much should we work?, University of South Australia, online, viewed 28 June 2011,
<http://www.unisa.edu.au/hawkeinstitute/cwl/documents/AWALI2010-report.pdf>

Ryan, C., and Sinning, M., Who works beyond the ‘standard’ retirement age and why? National Vocational Education and Training Research and Evaluation Program report. Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, online, 28 June 2011,
<http://www.ncver.edu.au/login_user.html?display=standalone&request_url=%2Fpopups%2Flimit_download.php%3Ffile%3Dresearch%2Fproj%2F2291.pdf>

Zeytinoglu, I., Cooke, G., Mann, S., 2009, ‘Flexibility: Whose Choice Is It Anyway?’, Industrial Relations, vol. 64, no. 4, pp. 555-574.


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