Almost half of employees have no access to flexible working, CIPD study finds

New campaign calls for all workers to have the right to request flexibility from day one, warning that unequal opportunities could lead to a ‘two-tier workforce’ 

Nearly half (46 per cent) of employees say they do not have flexible working arrangements, such as flexi-time, part-time working, compressed hours or job shares in their current role, according to new research.

In a survey of 2,000 employees and 2,000 employers, conducted by the CIPD in December 2020, a fifth (19 per cent) of employees said they worked for organisations that did not offer any flexible working arrangements.

It also highlighted disparities in current home-working arrangements because of the pandemic. It found more than four in 10 (44 per cent) employees had not worked from home at all since the beginning of the crisis, with the majority (92 per cent) reporting the nature of their job “doesn’t allow them to”.

Two in five (41 per cent) employees polled said it was unfair that some people could work from home while others had to continue to attend their place of work and had little flexibility in how they worked. Three-quarters (75 per cent) of workers agreed it was important to allow people who cannot work from home flexibility in other ways.

Consequently, the CIPD has today (1 February) launched its #FlexFrom1st campaign, which calls for employees to have the right to request flexible working from the first day of their employment.

Currently, the law only gives employees the right to request flexible working after 26 weeks of employment, and this is limited to one request every 12 months. The government has committed to launching a consultation on broadening access to flexible working in Britain, but the CIPD believes that making it a day-one right would “boost the number of people using flexible working arrangements”.

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The survey found that fewer than a third of employers (30 per cent) were planning to try to increase their uptake of forms of flexible working beyond home working over the next six to 12 months. In contrast, nearly half of organisations (47 per cent) planned to take steps to enable more home and hybrid working over the same period.

Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, said employers needed a new understanding of flexible working, and to embrace alternative arrangements beyond simply home working. “Being able to build in flexible working arrangements, such as changes to hours, term-time working or job shares, will empower people to have greater control and flexibility in their working life,” he said.

Cheese added that these kinds of flexibility were good for inclusion, erasing constraints for those who find it challenging to work standard hours. “It’s also good for people's wellbeing and productivity. Fairness of opportunity in working flexibly ensures organisations do not end up with divisions or a two-tier workforce,” he said.

Commenting on the campaign launch, Barry Ross, director at Crossland Employment Solicitors, said that in the current climate changing the law to give every employee a day-one right to flexible employment would require minimal action from employers. “It will simply be a case of changing their policies to say that, instead of having to wait for 26 weeks, they are welcome to make that request when they start work,” he said.

Ross added that, even with this right, an employer could still reasonably refuse flexible working requests for a number of specific business reasons, including the burden of additional costs, an inability to reorganise work among existing staff, an inability to recruit additional staff or a detrimental impact on performance among others.

However, Ross also highlighted that refusing a request for flexible working might now be harder to justify if employees have successfully worked flexibly during the pandemic.