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Study: Women have less influence than men over job content, working hours

Among senior staff, 36 percent of men said they could decide on their own working hours compared to 19 percent of women.

Carita Vuorenpää ja Lotta Lantto leikkausalihoitajat Jorvin sairaalan Anestesia- ja leikkausosasto K:n leikkaussalissa.
The difference between men and women is evident in the municipal, state and private sectors. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

Men are more often able to decide their hours of work than women, while a majority of women are employed in jobs where they have no say in their working hours, according to a new study.

The study was conducted by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, FIOH and according to research professor Mikko Härmä, the inability to influence working hours is most evident in jobs which feature fixed locations and times.

"The kinds of jobs where you have to be at the workplace at a certain time. In principle it is shift work. For example they can be nurses in the social and health care sector, a service representative at a hotel front desk or a store worker. This kind of work has become more widespread and they are fields dominated by women," Härmä explained.

Statistics Finland’s chief actuary, Jere Immonen, noted that options for working out flexible hours and days off are especially limited in the care sector because of a worker shortage.

"Replacements would also have to be found to even entertain the possibility of planning shifts and time off," he added.

Get workers involved

Härmä said that one way to address the imbalance between men’s and women’s ability to influence their hours of work would be to get employees involved in planning their shifts.

"These difficult fields, especially ones dominated by women in which work is tied to location and time, should develop a shift planning model in which workers are better involved than at present," he commented.

The FIOH said that it has developed operational models for shift planning software that can be used to improve employees’ ability to influence hours of work in sectors that predominantly employ women. The planning model calls for collaboration between employers and employees.

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Opportunity to influence job content a lot or to a fair extent
Image: Samuli Huttunen / Yle

In most cases, supervisors plan shift rota on their own computers. The organisation is proposing an application that would allow employees to access the same planning software to check their assigned shifts and to also propose their desired shifts. The approach has so far been trialled in hospitals, for example.

"Employers and employees can create shift rota together instead of the supervisor doing it alone. We are talking about community planning that has become quite widespread in the social and health care sector," Härmä added.

Women not closing the gap

Last year Statistics Finland’s "Quality of working life survey" revealed that there was a significant difference between men and women when it came to their experiences of being able to influence hours of work, time off and their job content. The survey received responses from more than 11,000 people.

"The results didn’t reveal any new information as similar outcomes were already evident in previous studies," Immonen noted.

Consecutive surveys conducted since 1990 have shown that in 30 years, women have not been able to close the gap with men in terms of their ability to influence when they report for duty.

"To some extent the situation is actually the reverse. The biggest gender differences are among employees who can decide on their working hours themselves and those who have no chance at all for a say," he added.

Separation of men’s a women’s work a factor

Immonen pointed to the division of work into male- and female-dominated fields as one of the biggest factors behind the problem.

"New research from Statistics Finland has revealed that workers’ influence is weaker in areas such as working hours in fields dominated by women."

Härmä agreed, saying that while the situation may not necessarily have deteriorated for women in some professions, and he added that "more women are doing cycle-based work in the service sector and they are doing more shift work than men did before."

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Opportunity to influence hours of arrival and departure
Image: Samuli Huttunen / Yle

On the other hand, the research also showed that gender differences are fixed even within sectors.

"For example in social and health services, industry and in the retail sector, the gulf between men and women remains in terms of being able to influence free time and job content," Immonen noted.

"Of course I can’t say whether or not people doing the same job have the same option to influence working hours, time off and job content. But overall the differences seem to be lasting, if we look at people in the same socioeconomic group working in the same sector. The gap is very distinct and permanent," he added.

Statistics Finland’s research also indicated that gender differences are also evident among people working in the municipal, state and private sectors.

The research also suggested that the difference between men and women’s ability to have a say in their work was also present in different socioeconomic groups and in many instances was even more apparent. For example among senior employees, 36 percent of men said they could decide on their own working hours, compared to 19 percent of women in the same group.

Härmä said that differences should be less striking among people in the same socioeconomic group.

"It could be that women apply for different kinds of roles compared to men. It could be that men in the same sector [as women] seek out more supervisory or independent roles, while women have jobs where they cannot influence their jobs or working hours as much," he speculated.

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