Navigating the tensions of flexible work: An exploration of the individual strategies employed by flexibly working parents
The demand for workplace flexibility is growing in New Zealand. The increasing and fragmented employment participation of women has given rise to growing complexity within family lives and higher demand for flexible work. Flexible work arrangements (FWAs) are intended to assist parents in managing care responsibilities, while discouraging unemployment among women in particular. Evidence linking FWA usage with positive work outcomes and reduced work-family conflict has grown in recent years. However, research also suggests a darker side to FWAs. For some, research shows that FWAs may exacerbate work-life balance (WLB) issues and negatively affect career advancement, with indications that attempts to promote WLB can come at the expense of positive work outcomes, and vice versa. As a result, less is known about the factors that shape outcomes for flexibly working parents, or indeed, the individual strategies that parents employ to promote positive outcomes while working flexibly. The complex way in which FWAs can either promote or hinder positive employee outcomes necessitates concurrent examination of the tensions between WLB and career outlooks for users of FWAs. Drawing on the experiences of 21 professional, flexibly working parents across public service organisations, this thesis finds parents navigate the tensions of flexible work using a variety of WLB, work organisation, and career-promoting strategies, with varying effects. Work intensification and efficiency strategies are shown to be commonly used by flexibly working parents for promoting positive work outcomes. However, while work efficiency appears to also promote WLB, work intensification is seen to negatively impact WLB. This research provides valuable insight into flexibly working employee strategies, hitherto largely neglected within the literature, and highlights the need for applying the life course perspective to FWA research.