Calls for Flexible Working to Be Normalised

Calls for Flexible Working to Be Normalised

It may be in the interest of employers and employees to make flexible working a standard option.

Liz Truss, Minister for Women & Equalities, has called for employers to make flexible working a standard option for employees, to help level-up the UK, boost opportunities for women and reduce geographic inequality as the country recovers from COVID-19.

A recent study published by the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) and jobs website Indeed shows offering flexible working explicitly in job ads would increase applications by up to 30%. The number of jobs advertised as flexible rose by around 17%. The research, which analysed nearly 20 million applications and is the largest of its kind ever conducted in the UK, shows greater transparency in job adverts would create at least 174,000 flexible jobs to the UK economy per year.

With more people working flexibly due to Covid, now may be the time to normalise it across the country. Liz Truss said the move would boost employment in areas away from major cities and help turbocharge opportunities for women – who are twice as likely as men to work flexibly. “The fact is that for many jobs there are invisible restrictions that hold people back – like the need to live in high-cost accommodation close to the centre of cities or maintain working arrangements that are very hard to combine with family or other responsibilities,” she added.

Flexible working has demonstrated increase in the productivity and morale of workers, and making it an option can help address the UK’s longstanding productivity gap and help level-up the country. The shift for many people to work from home during the pandemic has changed mindsets and now can be the best opportunity to make flexible working the norm, rather than something employees have to specially request.

“We know people value flexible work opportunities and as a result of the pandemic, there is increasing expectation that jobs are designed with this in mind,” Deepa Somasundari, senior director of strategic projects at the global job site Indeed, said. “For employers, this means reconsidering the notion that flexible work is a benefit and instead acknowledging it as a better way of working that could positively impact the lives of women and therefore society as a whole.”

The research from BIT & Indeed builds on another government backed report that was published in December. Insurance company Zurich worked with the BIT to advertise all roles as flexible as part of a trial with BIT, this led to a 20% jump in the number of women applying for senior roles within the company and double the number of total applications.

Almost 40% of employees worked from home in 2020, and the appetite for flexibility hit new heights during the COVID-19 pandemic. Research has shown that 9 out of 10 jobseekers want increased flexibility, be it remote working (60%), flexitime (54%) or reduced hours (26%).

A growing number of people continue to see the benefits of flexible working, now more than ever. These findings add to existing evidence showing how both men and women stand to benefit from working from home and returners programmes, Minister for Women, Baroness Berridge, said.

“Everyone can benefit from flexible working, but the research shows that for women it can be especially important,” Baroness Berridge added. “Flexible working can be a vital tool at the disposal of employers, helping to achieve workplace equality.”

Covid-19 turned the labour market upside down and today job vacancies are 37% below their pre-pandemic trend. While no sector has been immune to the virus some have fared worse than others with job postings drying up much faster and deeper in customer-facing occupations that typically attract more women than men, Pawel Adrjan, head of EMEA research at the global job site Indeed, said. Interest in flexible work was growing before Covid-19 before accelerating over the past year and now that the vaccine program offers hope of a jobs recovery it remains to be seen how employers respond to these changes and address widening inequalities.

Image: Iana Kolesnikova / Adobe Stock

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Kathleen Stewart is a journalist writing women at work and in leadership roles. She is particularly interested in examining how women manage to keep a sound work-life balance whilst bearing responsibility for their families, career development and company growth.