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'The pandemic made flexible work possible. So why is it still considered a women's issue?'

While few of us ever want to return to full pandemic lockdown mode, a silver lining of this awful time in history is flexible work. 

We saw businesses pivot at a moment's notice to function almost entirely remotely; allowing the 2022 hybrid 'work from home AND office' model to flourish.

There has been plenty written about how fantastic this flexible workforce is for women and mothers, who have historically been the ones seeking fewer hours and more flexible work to factor in childcare. 

But what about the men and dads who worked from home during the pandemic?

Are they still working flexibly, or are they all heading back to the office full-time, no questions?

On a recent episode of Mamamia's The Quicky podcast, host Claire Murphy interviewed several women about why they left their jobs to seek improved flexible working conditions as part of a growing movement termed the 'flexidus'. 

Claire also interviewed Professor of Sociology and Founding Director of The Future of Work Lab, Dr Leah Ruppanner, about why it's important for men and dads to make the same demands of employers.

"In recent survey data, 93 percent of the people we surveyed were saying they want flexible work... and that was men and women alike," Dr Ruppanner told Claire.

"Men should be putting their hands up to do the flexible work in part because if we go back to business as usual, which is just women take flexible work... and men don't, it just reinforces inequality."

With Australia being as close to full employment as you can get, and job vacancy rates at record highs, men and women can afford to be picky about finding flexible work.

A recent online survey by job advertising site Seek showed that 'work life balance' was the number one consideration for job seekers. Even more important than salary or the organisation advertising the role. 

But I look around and I wonder - are the men and dads taking advantage of high job vacancy rates and demanding more flexible working conditions from their employers as per the women?

If not, why not?

Watch: How sexy is sharing the mental load?! VERY. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

Our journey to a flexible household

After I had my first child in 2010 and began looking for work, flexibility was an important requirement for me, which was why I ultimately spent a decade in freelance and casual positions.  

A traditional nine-to-five job that fitted around daycare and school drop offs, or even a part-time job with limited annual leave and structured working days, seemed logistically and mentally challenging. 

My husband, Jules, was the primary income earner and like in so many families, the idea of him cutting back meant a loss of income and with bills to pay, my career journey slowed right down. 

Listen: The Quicky on the 'Flexidus' and why employees can demand more flexible work. Post continues below.

A whole new world

Then in 2020, the pandemic came along and blew up everything we thought we knew. 

Employees began working like freelancers with the help of technology like Zoom and Slack and flexible work went from being a luxury, to business as usual. I could sense that change was in the air. 

In 2021, I decided it was time to get back into this brave new working world, hoping that my regional location in Newcastle in NSW no longer stopped me from working where I really wanted. 

But I still had two little kids and an ongoing pandemic to contend with, which was where my husband Jules had to step in.

Jules could see the impossibility of trying to work and home school and we both took a hard look at our family roles and existing setup.

While I desperately wanted to work more, he wanted to work less, and he was lucky enough to work in an industry (healthcare) where it was possible for him to reduce his hours. 

I now work three days - two from home and one from the office in Sydney - meaning that I can still tackle some freelance projects or house and kids' stuff on the other two days.  

Jules adjusted from a full-time working week to five shorter days, meaning he is available for school pick up four days a week and when I'm at the office in Sydney.

This new setup has taken the pressure off me to always be available as a carer and we both benefit from a flexible working lifestyle. Someone usually remembers to get a load of washing on, shop for groceries, and I do the morning drop offs while Jules ferries the kids to after-school activities.

As co-parents, I believe strongly that it does not fall to me to organise everything for our boys and this benefits them too - they love that dad can watch them play after-school sport as much (or actually more) than mum.

I realise that our well balanced working and home situation is not yet the norm, and that we are incredibly lucky to have this very flexible setup. Some jobs simply don't work flexibly, but for the men and partners who worked from home during the pandemic and could see the benefit for their partners and families then, now is the time to join the flexidus.

Not just a women's issue

On The Quicky, Professor Ruppanner shared that the data speaks for itself: Men want to work flexibly as much as women - and now is the time to do it.

"Men are incredibly important change makers in this process. And for men to demand, ask for and role model using flexible work by taking their parental leave, taking caregiving leave, reducing their work time and showing that they are as committed to equal caregiving as our women, is such a key and critical piece to gender equality. 

"If women keep doing this and carrying the burden alone, we will have much slower, much more difficult change."

Professor Ruppanner said there is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but that employers need to listen to their male and female workforce to find out what they want.

"[Employers] have to continue to give people some degree of flexibility - men and women - because otherwise you'll see a huge hemorrhaging of your workforce and you will not be competitive."

She says that understanding the significance of how the pandemic changed our family dynamics is critical too. 

"Many of the people who are balancing caregiving demands got to step into family roles during the pandemic and liked it. They want to continue that labour because it makes them better people, better parents and better employees. [Flexibility] helps reduce some of the stress and strain experienced historically on women."

I'm all for continuing with flexible work but the onus shouldn’t only be on the woman or mother to create this balance, and as the surveys clearly show, most men are keen to work flexibly too.

While I know our family situation is not for everyone, I hope more men and women are at least having conversations about what work and care arrangements best suit them because this flexidus is an equal opportunity movement we can all benefit from.

Laura Jackel is Mamamia's Parenting Writer. For her weekly articles and to see photos of her outfits and kids, follow her on Instagram and  TikTok.

Did you know we have a whole family focussed community you can join on Facebook for more discussions like this? Join the Mamamia Parents Facebook group and follow  Mamamia Parents on Instagram.

Feature Image: Getty. 

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