UK men now work 3.3 hours less per week

Male employees are working almost half a day less per week than they were in the 90s, government figures show.

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Office for National Statistics (ONS) data released today reveals that UK men are spending fewer hours at work, creating space in the workforce for their female colleagues, who have increased their average working hours.

According to the figures, between 1998 and 2022, average working hours for men have fallen by 3.3 hours per week. Women, meanwhile, now work an extra 1.4 hours per week, with full-time workers seeing the biggest uplift in timesheets.

Experts ascribe the change to the rising popularity of flexible working, which has helped many working mothers – typically the main care provider in UK households – to better balance work and family commitments.

Remote work revolution

ONS analysis in today’s labour report describes how more women workers are now present in the workforce, compared to previous years. This has been one of the main contributing factors towards the change in average hours worked per week in the UK.

The biggest change was triggered by the start of the COVID pandemic in 2019 and the adoption of remote or hybrid working practices by UK businesses.

Since then, the proportion of female workers working full time has increased, with average weekly hours worked by women being half an hour higher in 2022 than in 2019.

It’s not just women who have benefited from the shift towards flexible working. In total, average weekly hours in the labour market have fallen by 1.3 hours, representing a huge shift in modern work patterns as employees prioritise greater work-life balance.

However, with female workers taking on more hours, it seems as though it’s their male colleagues most enjoying this boost, thanks to the reduction in their average work hours.

Employees switch up priorities

Kim Allcott is Partner at Allcott Commercial, a chartered surveyor. Allcott says employees are more commonly favouring flexible hours over remuneration packages.

“We've seen a sharp increase in flexible work requests since the pandemic, when people re-evaluated their lifestyles and placed more value on time outside of work”, she comments.

Men embracing flexible work options may contribute to a more balanced division of domestic labour in heterosexual partnerships. This frees up time for women to pursue their career goals, expanding the talent pool for new hires and helping to retain experienced employees who might otherwise leave the workforce.

“We have also seen an increase in men taking time off to care for dependents, suggesting that the gender balance [at home] is improving,” Allcott adds.

Childcare crisis halts work gains

Progress could still stall due to the childcare crisis. Demand for nursery places and surging childminder costs have made it a near impossible task for parents to find suitable childcare, forcing many women to choose between their career or spending more time doing childcare themselves.

ONS data released last year shows that the average employment rate for mothers between the ages of 16 and 49 stands at only 67%. That’s a clear discrepancy compared to the 74% employment rate among women without dependents.

On top of the exorbitant costs of childcare in the UK, another root cause of this issue is poor flexibility from employers around work availability. According to a report by global nursery provider Bright Horizons, 67% of working parents have had to resort to using their holiday entitlement to cover childcare.

With some employers asking staff back to the office, experts have warned that losing this employee benefit could undo the positive change in female economic activity.

On average, the ONS report shows that men still work 5.4 hours more per week than women. This suggests that, for many women, high childcare costs still make part-time work more cost-effective than paying nursery fees and doing full-time hours.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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