Workplace Equality in the Recession?

This study looks at equality policies and flexible working arrangements in Irish workplaces. How prevalent are they? Do they have any benefits for workers and the organisations they work for? Has the recession changed the situation?

The report first maps the incidence of formal equality policies and flexible working arrangements in 2009 and how this has changed since 2003. It then examines the impact of equality policies and flexible working arrangements in terms of employee well-being; job quality; employees’ attitudes to their jobs; absenteeism and innovation.

The study uses a large survey of employees, the National Workplace Survey 2009, to address these issues. These data were collected soon after the labour market entered the deep recession, and are compared with an earlier survey conducted in 2003, during the economic boom. All the analysis is based on responses from employees.

Key Findings

Equality Policies

In 2009 some 84 per cent of employees worked in an organisation with a formal equality policy, compared to 75 per cent of employees in 2003. The increase in coverage was particularly marked in the private sector.

  • Employees who work in organisations with a formal equality policy are much more likely to consider that opportunities for recruitment, pay and promotion are fair in their organisation, taking account of other factors.
  • The presence of an equality policy is associated with somewhat lower levels of work pressure and work-life conflict, taking all other factors into account.
  • Equality policies are associated with higher job satisfaction and higher employee commitment to their organisation.
  • Employees who work in organisations with a formal equality policy are also more likely to report that the organisation has recently introduced new products or services.
  • The presence of an equality policy has no impact, either positive or negative on job quality, measured as earnings and autonomy.

The overall conclusion is that formal equality policies are associated with benefits for both employees and the organisations they work for.

Flexible Working Arrangements

The study looks at four flexible working arrangements: flexible working hours, including flexitime; part-time work; working from home and job-sharing. In 2009, 30 per cent of employees worked flexible hours, including flexitime, and 25 per cent worked part-time. Some 12 per cent regularly worked from home during normal working hours, and 9 per cent were job-sharing. This represents a marked increase since 2003. Flexible working arrangements have mixed effects, for example:

  • Part-time work reduces work-life conflict and work pressure significantly, even accounting for other factors.
  • However, part-time workers and job sharers tend to have lower earnings and lower autonomy compared to others with the same education and work experience
  • Those who work from home during normal working hours have higher work-life conflict and work pressure, though they also have higher job autonomy and earnings.

Thus not all flexible working arrangements promote work-life balance, and those that do may be associated with trade-offs in terms of rewards and autonomy.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Frances McGinnity concludes that “While the recession has created many challenges for employers in Ireland, we find no evidence in the period up to the end of 2009 that employers have responded by reducing formal equality policies, or limiting the availability of flexible working options. This is likely to be good for employees, given their generally positive link to employee well-being, and for the organisations for which they work.”

Welcoming the report, Renee Dempsey, CEO of the Equality Authority, said: “The positive outcomes for enterprises identified in the 2003 survey have been confirmed in 2009 – despite the very different situation in the Irish economy and labour market. Companies that capture these benefits through proactive equality and diversity strategies are strengthening their prospects for recovery and future growth.”


This study was commissioned by The Equality Authority and repeats an earlier study carried out by Philip J. O’Connell and Helen Russell (ESRI) in 2005. The National Workplace Survey 2009, the main survey used in the study, was funded by the National Centre for Partnership and Performance (now NESC).

The study is jointly published by The Equality Authority and the Economic and Social Research Institute, and is supported by the European Union’s PROGRESS Programme (2007-2013). The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and are not attributable to the Equality Authority, the ESRI or the European Commission.



The Equality Authority 2 Clonmel Street, Dublin 2. Telephone: +353 1 4173336 Fax +353 1 4173331; also Birchgrove House, Roscrea, Co.Tipperary. Telephone: +353 505 24126 Fax: +353 505 22388; email:; web site:

The Equality Authority is a State Agency which is mandated to promote equality and eliminate discrimination in the workplace and in the provision of goods and services, accommodation and education.

The Economic and Social Research Institute, Whitaker Square, Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, Dublin 2. Telephone: +353 1 8632000 ; Fax +353 1 8632100; email:; web site:

The ESRI is an independent research institute governed by a Council. The ESRI does not as an Institute take policy positions and the views expressed in ESRI publications are those of the authors. All ESRI reports are peer-reviewed prior to publication.

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