With its many benefits, we believe flexible working should be the norm - not the exception - for UK workers, and central to the creation of inclusive and productive workplaces.

The situation

More action is needed to increase the uptake of flexible working arrangements to create more inclusive, diverse and productive workplaces that suit both the needs of organisations and individuals.

While everyone in the UK has a statutory right to request flexible working, the number of people using the main forms of flexible working has plateaued over the last decade. Nearly nine in ten jobs are still not advertised as flexible - even though research shows that 87% of employees in the UK would like to work more flexibly.

This lack of flexibility means that workers with caring responsibilities of different kinds, or disabilities or health conditions, or those who are looking to reduce hours and downshift as they move towards retirement, often find it difficult to find employment, progress or stay in work.

Consequently, organisations that fail to provide inclusive flexible working opportunities struggle to recruit, motivate and retain the workers they need, finding it challenging to boost diversity and inclusion.

CIPD viewpoint

The CIPD’s view is that flexible working practices should be the norm - not the exception - for UK workers, and are central to the creation of inclusive and productive workplaces.

Flexible working can help organisations attract talent and support diversity both across the workforce and at board level. It can improve employee job satisfaction, drive loyalty, support well-being and enable organisations to be more responsive to change.

The CIPD’s UK Working Lives (2019) research points to a number of barriers to be overcome: Line manager attitudes, lack of senior-level support, concerns about meeting operational and customer requirements, and the nature of the work people do. Performance measures that focus on hours rather than outputs are also a factor, as well as inequality of access to flexible working.

The CIPD is supporting the people profession to use its unique position to break these barriers and promote and support a much wider uptake of flexible working practices. We have run over 20 events across our branch networks in the last 12 months, highlighted successful guidance and case studies, and are also involved in initiatives to support flexible working. This includes:

  • co-chairing the UK Government’s Flexible Working Taskforce, publishing research and guidance on enabling flexible working, and creating practical tools for line managers to bring about change
  • our Steps Ahead Mentoring programme, supporting jobseekers who find it hard to access the labour market due to the lack of flexible working
  • piloting the CIPD Parent Returner Programme in Yorkshire and Humber, addressing the challenges faced by both employers and returners via bespoke training and support

Actions for Government

  • Work with organisations (such as the CIPD) on myth-busting around flexible working to dispel the notion that it cannot work for certain employees or job roles that traditionally are not considered flexible.

  • Support the Flexible Working Task Force, and consider its recommendations on the review of the right to request flexible working.

  • Create a flexible working challenge fund to enable sector and regional pilots, and test and evaluate different approaches to encourage and enable employers to increase the availability and uptake of flexible working.

  • Lead by example by ensuring that the civil service becomes an exemplar of flexible working, and by encouraging the wider public sector to create more flexible jobs.

Recommendations for employers

  • Challenge perceptions and attitudes. Negative attitudes amongst leaders and line managers can prevent the benefits of flexible working being realised.

  • Raise awareness of different forms of flexible working, such as compressed hours and job sharing, and explore how can they be effective in roles that have traditionally been seen as non-flexible.

  • Promote flexible hiring to improve recruitment and retention and sustain talent pipelines – this includes advertising more roles as flexible.

  • Develop mutual trust between line managers/senior management and employees in alternative working arrangements. Support these arrangements with appropriate people management systems and processes.

CIPD resources and references

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