Formally sanctioned flexible working conditions are now common in Australian workplaces. While large organisations have policies for part-time work, career breaks, and leave options, research indicates employees may still suffer employment disadvantage if they use them (French and Sheridan 2010; Lyonette and Crompton 2008). This paper examines this issue for a lesser known population: professional and managerial employees in small accounting firms (<50 employees), particularly those working fewer than 35 hours per week and those who took career breaks. Results are drawn from a survey of all CPA Australia members working in small firms.
Unsurprisingly, given that women undertake more family and household work (ABS 2009; Burgess and Strachan 2005), more women than men worked part-time, and women had taken longer career breaks. Arrangements for part-time work and other flexible options tended to be local, informal and reliant on individual managers‘ support. Analysis of quantitative and qualitative responses revealed differing motivations and difficulties for women and men working part-time. While both women and men typically intended to return to full-time work, 53% of women considered that working part-time was detrimental to their long-term career prospects, compared with 22% men. While a similar percentage of women and men were concerned about gaining employment following a career break, men were more concerned than women about gaining the type of employment they wanted. Women were more concerned with retaining their seniority and updating technical knowledge. In general women were more negative than men about the impact of having had a career break.
The paper examines the reasons for these different motivations and reactions between the genders, and links the findings to other literature on workplace flexibility.