The Flexibility Paradox: Why flexible working leads to more work and what we should do ab

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, flexible working has become the norm for many workers. However, does flexible working really provide a better work-life balance, enhance worker’s well-being and gender equality? Using data from across Europe and drawing from studies across the world, I will evidence how homeworking and control over schedules can lead to workers working longer and harder, with work encroaching on family life. I argue that this is largely due to two contributing factors. Passion and insecurity. Drawing from Foucault’s theory of subjectification, I argue that in our work-centric society, freedom at work means freedom to do more work- to ‘hustle’. Similarly, drawing from Bauman and others, I argue that we live in the fully commodified society where insecurity is prevalent, individualised, where individuals are left to fend for themselves, increasing the need to exploit their labour fully to survive. The patterns of exploitation manifests differently for women and men – but with women needing to consider the family and children as a part of their human capital formation. Women end up exploiting themselves at home by increasing time spent on childcare and housework. This is done to meet the passion of ‘motherhood’ adhering to the expectations of contemporary societies, and ensuring the future labour market potential of their offspring. This, and assumptions around women’s flexible working can explain why women and mothers may especially be party to negative career consequences when working flexibly. Much of these problematic nature of flexible working is due to the way we think about work, and the role work has in our society. The talk will end with some concluding thoughts about what we need to do as a society not only to ensure that flexible working results in positive outcomes for individuals and society, but to adapt to the changing nature of ‘work’ in the future of work.

Heejung Chung is Professor of Sociology and Social Policy, at the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, at the University of Kent. She is a comparative labour market and welfare state researcher interested in the future of work, workers’ well-being, and gender equality. Her research aims to explore different issues of inequality and social justice around work and labour markets, and find policy solutions to tackle these problems. The past decade, her work has focused on flexible working, including home and hybrid working, to explore why it leads to unintended negative outcomes such as long hours work and traditionalization of gender norms to understand what policy changes are necessarily to advert this. She recently published the book The Flexibility Paradox: Why flexible working leads to (self-)exploitation (2022, Policy Press) summarising this. More recently, she is exploring and measuring the flexibility stigma – the perception that workers working flexibly/from home are somehow less motivated, loyal, and productive – through vignette studies across the world.