Half of women want to pack it all for an easier life

2005

More than half of female workers have already left or are seriously considering escaping conventional nine-to-five working in a bid to invent their own working patterns, according to a new report.

The survey by recruitment and HR consultancy Hudson of more than 1,000 UK employees and 500 employers has found the majority (84 per cent) of professional women believe the nine-to-five routine is being spurned by their gender.

They are instead preferring to follow a career path offering flexibility and professional autonomy rather than fit in with the demands of the corporate world.

This includes planning to set up their own businesses, retrain, work flexibly or pursue a "portfolio" career.

Perhaps most worrying for employers is the finding that almost three quarters of the female professionals polled said they were disappointed with their career progress to date.

Respondents of all ages were equally disenchanted and looking for more unorthodox working styles, suggesting that it was not just working mothers seeking greater flexibility in their careers, said Hudson.

Lack of free time outside the daily working grind and poor future career prospects were key complaints, which workers felt were contributing to a desire to break with traditional ways of working in favour of more flexible and challenging working styles.

Many employers (70 per cent) recognised that women were much more likely than men to pursue alternative ways of advancing their careers.

Nearly two thirds admitted that if more women left to pursue unconventional career paths, it would have a major impact on their business and their ability to recruit sufficient talent.

Almost half of the female professionals polled did not expect to be working full-time in 2010.

Geraldine Hetherington, chief operating officer at Hudson UK, said: "Many women have tasted corporate life and have decided there are better ways of making their mark on the world than following the traditional working model set before them.

"It's not just the demands of family life that are encouraging women to reject working conventions in favour of their own methods; in order to have more control over where, when and how they work, they are setting up their own businesses, retraining or pursuing a 'portfolio' career," she added.

Employers were only slowly beginning to realise that this could have a major impact on their businesses, she also warned.

"If they want to attract and retain women, they must do more than pay lip service to flexible working arrangements," she continued.

"Women are saying they are dissatisfied with the amount of free time they have, with their career prospects and with their level of responsibility and autonomy.

"Employers need to ensure they provide effective career management programmes, increase clarity around roles and delivery expectations and recruit women at senior levels within the organisation to ensure they are in touch with their needs," Hetherington concluded.

Among other findings, 87 per cent of employers did not have a specific attraction and retention plan in place targeted at women and mindful of their demands.

While 85 per cent believed they were actively committed to providing flexible working opportunities, just 58 per cent believed it was an option in their company, highlighting a serious gap between perception and reality.

One in two professional women was frustrated because they were unable to work flexible hours and three quarters could not work from home regularly.

Recruiting more women at a senior level in order to shape the company to be more in tune with today's workforce was one solution, according to one in three employers.

A total of 39 per cent felt offering flexible hours and home working would increase female representation in the workplace.