Uptake of flexible working has not increased since 2010, finds CIPD study

Task force urges employers to advertise jobs using ‘Happy to Talk Flexible Working’ strapline 

The proportion of people in the UK who have a flexible working arrangement has flatlined since 2010, the CIPD said today as it launched a campaign to address the issue. 

The Flexible Working Task Force, co-chaired by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the CIPD, is urging employers to advertise jobs of all levels and pay grades as flexible by including the strapline: “Happy to Talk Flexible Working.”

The percentage of the UK workforce with a flexible working arrangement had not risen above the 27 per cent seen in 2010, according to the CIPD Megatrends: Flexible Working report, published today to coincide with the launch of the campaign. It last rose from 23 per cent in 2005 to 27 per cent in 2010.

It is hoped the campaign will reverse this stagnation by tackling “outdated attitudes” through increasing the availability of flexible working.

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Kelly Tolhurst, business minister, said flexible working helped employees balance their work and home life while creating an “inclusive economy and diverse workforce”. “It also gives employers access to a wider pool of talent and enables better matching of applicants and jobs,” she added.

“We want to ensure the UK continues to lead the world in addressing the challenges of the changing world of work and the Flexible Working Task Force plays a valuable role in this endeavour, with a great forum through which we can make flexible working a reality for all employees.”

As part of the government’s recently announced plans to overhaul workers’ rights, Tolhurst said she would also consider making it a duty for employers to consider whether a job can be carried out flexibly and clearly advertise this when looking to fill a position.

All members of the Flexible Working Taskforce – which include the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) – have committed to advertising jobs as flexible. They have also pledged to highlight the wide-ranging business case for flexible working while promoting guidance on how to create more flexible jobs and how to manage flexible workers. 

Peter Cheese, CIPD chief executive, said providing more flexible opportunities should be part of every organisation’s strategy to attract and retain talent and skills. 

“By encouraging many more jobs to be advertised as flexible as the default option, the task force is challenging outdated attitudes to flexible working that still prevail in some organisations, and laying down a marker for other employers to follow,” he said.

Today’s CIPD report found part-time hours were the most common form of flexible working among those measured, followed by flexitime, annual hours contracts and term-time working.

Citing previous research, the report also highlighted a gap between the availability of flexible arrangements and their use. In 2018, 27 per cent of UK employees that had reduced working hours arrangements available to them did not use them, up from 24 per cent in 2011. Moreover, seven per cent of workers in 2018 said they had the option to work from home but did not, up from six per cent in 2011. 

The report said employees may see flexible working practices as available, but not to them. 

“Employees and their managers, especially HR managers, may differ in their perceptions of availability,” it said. “Managers may regard a practice as available, but their employees’ perception of whether it is available may depend on the effort invested in communicating its availability and experience on the ground.”

Cheese said: “Employers need to consider, and address, the barriers holding them back from adopting flexible working practices more widely, be it entrenched organisational cultures or making sure line managers are trained to support and manage flexible workers.”