New Zealand Law Society - Canterbury lawyer survey looks at part-time and flexible work practices

Canterbury lawyer survey looks at part-time and flexible work practices

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A survey of Canterbury-Westland lawyers and legal executives has found that most flexible work arrangements are informal and formal policies relating to flexible or part-time work are rare.

The survey was carried out by the Canterbury Women's Legal Association and the University of Canterbury School of Law and the findings have been published in a report, Flexible and Part-Time Work Arrangements in the Canterbury Legal Profession.

The online survey in November 2015 received 138 responses, with over 90% of these from female lawyers and legal executives. Legal Executives made up 21% of the respondents and 15% were employers. Just under 50% of the employee respondents were working under a flexible or part-time arrangement.

The report says a key finding was that a majority of employees with a flexible work arrangement indicated it had worked as intended.

"A majority of employers indicated that such arrangements worked well or very well. However, there was a divergence of views regarding the impact of such arrangements on employees' career paths. A majority of employers whose employees have a flexible work arrangement did not perceive this to have had a negative impact, but employees were more likely than not to assess such arrangements as having some negative impact."

It says there was also divergence on how such arrangements were viewed in the workplace. A majority of employees with an existing arrangement indicated that their employer and colleagues were supportive, but were less sure that their clients were supportive.

"Those employees without an existing arrangement were more equivocal on the issue of employer and colleague support for those with existing arrangements."

The report says a majority of employees without a flexible work arrangement were of the view that working a flexible number of hours was not a possibility with their current employer.

"A majority of employees working on a part-time basis thought their arrangement had worked as intended. However, over half of lawyers working part-time assessed this as having a negative impact on their career path and/or progression, as did a majority of employers. A majority of legal executives working part-time perceived no negative impact on their career."

A majority of part-time lawyers and legal executives viewed their colleagues and clients as being supportive of the arrangement.

Part-time work

Of those who responded, 44.1% (52 employees) were working part-time and 98% were female. Most (90.4%) had worked part-time for more than one year and 6.7 years was the average period that respondents had worked part-time.

The most common reason given by respondents for working part-time was care-giver responsibilities. This was also the most common reason for lawyers to work flexibly. The most common reason for legal executives was to achieve a work-life balance.

Reasons for working part-time (more than one choice possible)

Reason Proportion
My responsibilities as a carer for others 85%
To achieve a work-life balance 48%
Health reasons 8%
Other 6%
Only part-time work is available for my current role 6%
To ease into retirement 4%
Effects of Canterbury earthquakes 2%

Just over 80% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that their employer was supportive of the part-time arrangement, while a smaller proportion - 64.7% - agreed or strongly agreed that their clients were supportive of the arrangement.

Flexible work

Of the 66 respondents who worked full-time, 34 (51.5%) worked under a flexible arrangement. Roughly 17% of these employees had arranged a formal flexible arrangement, with about 35% reporting an informal flexible arrangement. Just four of the 34 employees who worked flexibly were made.

Flexible work arrangement hours ranged from 37 to 60 hours per week, with an average of 42.6 hours per week.

The most common reasons for working flexibly were linked to a wish to reduce the hours worked per week. In total, flexible working arrangement allowed employees to choose to work an average of 34.7 hours per week.

Reasons for utilising flexible work arrangements (more than one choice possible)

Reason Proportion
To achieve a work-life balance 56%
My responsibilities as a carer for others 53%
Health reasons 15%
Effect of earthquakes 12%
Commuting 6%
Medical appointments 3%
Other commitments 3%