Let’s reinvigorate work-life balance and flexible working

By Claire McCartney, Diversity and Inclusion Advisor at the CIPD

It’s National Work-Life Week and the CIPD wants organisations to reinvigorate their approaches to work-life balance and flexible working

The concept of work-life balance is nothing new. I remember researching and speaking about it when I first started my career at Roffey Park, several years ago now (!)  But, unfortunately, it is still somewhat elusive for many of us.

Several organisations continue to operate long hours’ cultures which value the hours put in rather than outputs achieved. We also have the pressures of ‘always on’ working cultures aided by developments in technology. And, earlier this year, our Health and Well-being at Work Survey in association with Simplyhealth, reported record levels of people reporting presenteeism –coming into work even though they were unwell. The survey also found that ‘leaveism’, such as people using annual leave to work, is also a growing problem.

A key aspect in achieving a good work-life balance is often the amount of control we feel we have over our workload. Working in a more flexible and agile way can provide one way of helping us achieve that greater sense of control.

Flexible Working is an important area for the CIPD – we are currently co-chairing the Flexible Working Taskforce with the Department for Business which has a membership of business groups, professional bodies and key charities and unions which has been set up to tackle the barriers to flexible working and widen the availability of quality flexible working across UK organisations. We are also producing new research and guidance for HR and people managers in organisations to help them to make flexible working work.

People are increasingly thinking differently about how, when and where they work. And research shows that many of us would like to work more flexibly. Quality flexible working can increase an organisation’s ability to attract talent, improve employee job satisfaction and commitment, reduce absenteeism and improve wellbeing. It can also create greater business agility and responsiveness to change. As part of our work on the Flexible Working Taskforce we have jointly created a rounded business case for flexible working which we will be sharing with organisations and promoting to bring about change. We would like to see meaningful, high quality flexible working becoming the norm, not the exception, for UK workers.

However, despite the potential gains, our workforce data and research shows that the uptake of most types of flexible working by employees has largely plateaued over the last decade, even with the right to request being available to all. There could be a number of reasons behind this, including a lack of understanding and support amongst business leaders and line managers, or the aforementioned long engrained working cultures and traditional standard working hours.

So, what are some of the things that organisations need to think about to bring about change and effectively implement flexible working? We think the following areas are important:

  • establishing a clear process for flexible working by creating defined roles for employees, line managers and HR so that everyone knows what they can do to make it work
  • ensuring that there is enough support for line managers by providing training on how to support flexible workers and access to help from HR business partner colleagues
  • investing in ongoing communication and role modelling – for instance encourage your CEO, senior managers, and people at different levels to regularly talk about their own flexible working patterns and the difference flexible working can make to individuals and organisational performance
  • advertising job vacancies as being open to flexible working - many highly skilled individuals are looking for flexibility in working hours - use the tagline ‘Happy to talk flexible working’
  • assessing how supportive of flexible working organisational processes are. For example, do flexible workers have access to the same training and development afforded to those that work less flexibly, are they being promoted in the same way, if not, then take action to ensure greater consistency and fairness
  • making use of pilots when introducing new initiatives, for instance a 3 month trial period for individual flexible working arrangements to test how best they can work and what changes might be needed to enhance them
  • building mechanisms to monitor and evaluate progress with flexible working (such as regular reviews by flexible workers and their line managers) and make changes based on that feedback.


Building on all of these areas, we believe that through effectively embedding, monitoring and evaluating flexible working provisions, the people profession can play a key role in unlocking the full benefits of flexible and agile working for the advantage of individuals, businesses, society and the economy.

Read our flexible working factsheet here: https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/fundamentals/relations/flexible-working/factsheet

Thank you for your comments. There may be a short delay in this going live on the blog page as we moderate the comments added to our blogs.

  • From my experience one of the fundamentals that is needed for flexible working to thrive is a relationship of mutual trust at work. Where there is genuine trust, it is so much easier to consider and experiment with genuine flexibility.