Just one in 20 job adverts mention flexible working, report finds

Employers urged to ensure role descriptions are attractive to age-diverse talent, as research finds references to flexibility are scarce despite a third of firms offering it

Just one in 20 job adverts mention flexible working, a report has found: just one example of where employers are failing to use inclusive terms when trying to attract talent.

The report, conducted by the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) on behalf of the Centre for Ageing Better, found that while one in three businesses (30 per cent) offered flexible working, just 5.5 per cent actually used the phrase “flexible working” in their job adverts – a phrase that was found to be particularly appealing to older workers.

Similarly, the research – which surveyed nearly 3,500 people of different ages – found that different terms were often seen as stereotypically young or old by potentially candidates, and that while older candidates were put off by younger language, younger candidates were less likely to be put off by older language.

Descriptions such as ‘innovative’, ‘adaptable’, and ‘dynamic’, which were very common in job adverts, were often seen as being stereotypically young.

Conversely, stereotypically older worlds, such as ‘dedicated’, ‘experienced’ and ‘knowledgeable’, which were less commonly used, were more likely to attract older applicants and had little negative effect on younger applicants.

Similarly, while offering perks including flexible working, generous pension contributions, training opportunities and paid annual leave had a positive impact on candidates of all ages, they were particularly good at attracting candidates over the age of 45.

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Patrick Thomson, senior programme manager at the Centre for Ageing Better, said the research showed employers needed to think carefully about the language they used in their adverts. “Applying for a new job when you’re younger feels like an opportunity, applying for a job when you’re older can feel like a risk,” he said.

“This report shows that making the language of job adverts inclusive and attractive to all ages is a win-win, making older workers more likely to apply without deterring younger jobseekers,” Thomson added.

Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser at the CIPD, said the research was also another reminder of how few adverts mentioned flexible working “despite this being a huge draw for potential applicants”.

“It’s crucial that employers establish the people management policies and practices needed to recruit, train and retain an age diverse workforce, and harness the skills and experience they have effectively.

“When recruiting, employers should be thoughtful about how they present job opportunities and make the language of job adverts inclusive and attractive to all ages,” she said.

McCartney added that employers should use the “happy to talk flexible working” tagline in their recruitment wherever possible.

The CIPD is also calling for the right to request flexible working to be a day-one right for all employees through its #FlexFrom1st campaign.

Johannes Lohmann, head of work and finance at the BIT, said that while older workers were a “highly valuable” part of the workforce, the labour market was not always good at matching them with relevant opportunities. This was “to the disadvantage of employers, workers and society at large,” he said.

“To attract older workers, employers should be thoughtful about how they present job opportunities. We hope this report will give employers relevant evidence and practical advice on how to make the most of the opportunity,” said Lohmann.