Many people put family first and take on only jobs that will fit in with their responsibilities at home, Families Commission research has found.
And some at-home parents say they would take up a job if it allowed them the flexibility their family needed.
The research, Give and Take - Families' Perceptions and Experiences of Flexible work in New Zealand, used focus groups, case studies and a survey of 1000 people to get a family perspective on the issue.
It was carried out around the time Parliament passed the Employment Relations (Flexible Working Arrangements) Amendment Act 2007, which gives employees the right to request flexible working arrangements if they are responsible for the care of someone.
Families Commission Chief Commissioner Jan Pryor said the study showed the benefits for families were clear. "They told us that having some give and take in their working life reduced their stress levels and improved the quality of time with their family.
"Even so, many people said they didn't have the flexibility they wanted and others felt they had had to trade off flexibility for less pay and lower status."
More than three-quarters of those surveyed had access to or used flexible work arrangements, including being able to move their lunch break to meet their family commitments or take time off during school holidays. Four out of 10 were also able to work from home.
"However, there was a lot of misunderstanding about just what makes up quality flexible work options. Some people thought that if they were given time off for bereavement leave or sick leave then they had flexible work - they were not aware it was a legal requirement," Ms Pryor said.
"Others were not aware of how varied flexible work arrangements could be. Some thought that the only option was part-time work and since this would mean a cut in pay they didn't even consider it."
Ms Pryor said the culture of a workplace played a big part in whether staff asked for flexibility.
In line with other research, families said negative attitudes of managers and colleagues were the main barrier to asking for changes to their working arrangements - even when they were theoretically available in the workplace.
"The research suggests that there are still significant barriers stopping people from taking up flexible work options."
* A law passed last year gives employees the right to request flexible working arrangements if they are responsible for the care of another person.
* More than 75 per cent of those surveyed have access to or use flexible work arrangements.
* Forty per cent are able to work from home .