Driving flexible working practices

A laptop in a bedroom

Flexible working is becoming an increasingly popular tool used by countries and companies to address work life balance needs.

Dr Heejung Chung from the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research is a labour market sociologist doing research on flexible working, gender equality and work-life balance. She was the principle invesitgator (PI) of the project Work AutonomyFlexibility and Work Life Balance (WAF).  She has significantly contributed to the policy directions of International governmental organisations, governments and advocacy groups across the world, and helped build capacity for policy proposals in promoting good flexible working practices.

Chung’s research was driven by her passion to address deep rooted labour market issues with a goal to enable workers a better work life balance whilst maintaining productivity.

More recently she has been working to address the lack of evaluation on gender norms and how work cultures shape outcomes of flexible working. With an increase in evidence Dr Chung hopes to address long standing beliefs and assumptions of how work and workers should behave.

Flexible working can bring many benefits to parents such as allowing them to work at home to care for children enabling mothers to maintain their labour market positions after childbirth. However, there is still a common stigma that flexible working reduces productivity and that not being “present” in the workplace impedes chances for recognition and promotion.  In order for flexible working to become widely accepted and integrated in the workplace, it will require a change of mind set by both the employee and employer.

Dr Chung is currently working on a survey to demonstrate how COVID-19 and the lockdown has influenced work-life balance, gender division of labour, and attitudes towards flexible working.

Her work has been used directly and is also influencing many different fora including:

The European Commission’s directive on work life balance – in relation to the introduction of the right to flexible working alongside protective mechanism for flexible workers against discrimination.

The UK Women & Equalities select committee – in a report on ‘Fathers in the workplace’ which highlights the limitations of the existing right to request flexible working, and the need for further policy changes to shift cultural norms on whose responsibility it is to care for children.

The UK Government Bodies – including the Cabinet Office and Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategies as part of the advisory board of the Shared Parental Leave review (2018-), the Maternity and Paternity Leave Survey (2019), and the Employee Rights Survey (2020).

The German Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs’ Future of Work agenda

The Better Life Lab – a top American think tank in their ‘Better work Tool Kit’

Australian Work Family roundtables election where her work was included in the benchmark document to push the government to expand their family policy provision.

Since 2018, Dr Chung has been advisor to the Korean Federation of Trade Unions advising on how to best use flexible working policies in relation to the Korean context and the newly introduced working time reduction regulation, and other broader policy direction to address gender equality/work life balance issues. She was also a key policy advisor for the Charter Management Institute’s White paper on gender gap in 2016-18 ensuring the inclusion of the role of flexible working and its positive and negative outcomes are measured in their survey, and that their key policy stance and training provided to managers include how to encourage good flexible working practices.