Mars and Venus: the gender perspective on working patterns

Aviva’s research exposes the gender divisions behind many people’s pandemic experience – and attitudes towards hybrid working.

Depending on whose viewpoint you’re looking at it from, a relationship – any relationship – can seem very different from one perspective to another.

Aviva’s recent research 1 suggests that when it comes to the relationship between an employee and the workplace, gender can play a part in the way that relationship is viewed. And while we’re not exactly saying that men are from Mars and women from Venus, their experience of the work/life balance in the pandemic can appear to come from very different directions.

More employees shifted to remote working during the pandemic, and signs are that hybrid working patterns will remain common as it finally abates. Though this might be widely seen as a positive development, the research confirms that this isn’t without a downside. There’s been a steady increase in the number of employees who often neglect both mental and physical health since before the pandemic.

More than two in five (44%) employees feel they can never switch off from work, while 39% feel their employer does not encourage them to “switch off” outside of their contracted hours. One result of this always-on, ever-present culture is that 40% of employees are concerned about work-related burnout, which paints a worrying picture for long-term employee wellbeing.

Similar pressures, different perspectives

This concern does not appear to be experienced evenly between the genders. While both men and women are equally likely (52%) to feel the boundaries between work and home are “increasingly blurred”, the impacts are visibly fractured along gender lines.

The research showed that 24% of women were likely to report a negative impact on their work/life balance, compared to just 16% of men. And women are noticeably more concerned about the risk of work-related burnout (46% vs. 35% of men). It also showed that only 64% of women felt hard work entitled them to claim back ‘me’ time during work hours – 8% down on the number of men who said they felt able to do so.

So, faced with this disparity, how can employers help boost the wellbeing – and productivity – of employees who may feel particularly affected by work/life balance issues?

Aviva’s findings suggest employers may need to consider how they bring people back into the workplace to avoid deepening the gender divide. Not every employee who feels they may benefit through a return to the workplace will be able to do so with the same degree of ease. There’s a risk that those – often women – with primary care roles for their children or parents could be put under increasing strain.

What works for some won’t work for all

While more than half of men (52%) feel the most productive ‘hybrid’ work arrangement for them would involve three or more days in the office, only 44% of women agree. Indeed, more than three quarters (67%) of the women surveyed felt that complete flexibility around which hours they work during the day – aside from in-person or virtual meetings – would make them more productive.

These findings have major implications for employers considering a ‘hybrid’ solution to the issue of where workers should be based in the post-pandemic world. To keep staff motivated and engaged, there’s a need to listen carefully to the broad spectrum of views which are likely to co-exist within any business.

The key point seems to be that what may be right for one employee – female or male – may not be for another, and as with all aspects of wellbeing, a highly personalised approach is most likely to meet with success. Debbie Bullock expanded on this:

“It is vitally important that people are treated as individuals, rather than employers trying to impose a one-size-fits-all approach. The pandemic may have been a collective experience, but the impact has been fragmented in so many ways, with women especially facing particularly acute stresses from the blurring of lines between home and work.”

Like other aspects of the working world where change is prevalent, the pandemic may have exacerbated ongoing trends rather than prompting wholesale changes of direction. In highlighting the effect of gender divisions within flexible working experiences, it may have underlined the need for a more personalised approach to staff wellbeing.  A small mercy for which we should probably be grateful.

And while men and women may not come from different planets in their relationships with the workplace, there’s certainly enough difference between their perspectives to justify careful thought about the way forward. People’s experiences vary… and so must the solutions we employ.

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