Majority of public sector workers want to keep flexible working, research shows

Most would like a blended approach, with three quarters saying they want to work remotely at least one day a week

Violeta Stoimenova/Getty Images

Three quarters of public sector workers would be more likely to stay in a job that allowed remote or hybrid working, a study has found. 

The report, published by the Open University and Public Sector Executive (PSE), said hybrid or remote working made organisations more attractive across the public sector, with 73 per cent of those polled saying they’d be more likely to stay in a job that offered this.

This increased to nine out of 10 in the government and local authorities sector.

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The findings, based on a poll of more than 2,600 public sector employees across all levels of seniority, found the majority (62 per cent) of staff now work remotely for one or more days per week, with 76 per cent of those surveyed saying they would like to do this.

However, most public sector employees said they wanted a blended approach to remote working. The plurality (29 per cent) of those polled said they wanted to be in the office one to two days a week, while 26 per cent said their preference was for three to four days. A quarter (24 per cent), said they wanted to be in the office full time.

Similarly, of the 29 per cent who said they were currently working remotely full time, just one in five (21 per cent) wanted this arrangement to be permanent.

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Gemma Bullivant, an independent HR coach and consultant, said the findings were not surprising, but questioned whether organisations had truly embraced a hybrid model and remote culture.

“Many organisations are adopting some form of hybrid compromise, but it seems to me that many are doing this reluctantly, and most are not especially clear on how ‘hybrid’ is defined for them, or what specifically is missing in a remote/hybrid environment that needs to be addressed,” she said.

Bullivant added that organisations needed to use this opportunity to “switch the conversation around and create an environment which suits most people, as it will never suit everyone”.

The report found there was also a demand for L&D and upskilling opportunities. The combination of digital service delivery and remote working had made technology skills essential, it said, with 35 per cent of public sector employees polled reporting they would like to improve their digital skills.

Additionally, nearly half of respondents (48 per cent) wanted to get ahead in their careers, with training in management and leadership the most popular for 29 per cent of public sector employees. It has also highlighted a link between L&D and retention: eight out of 10 public sector staff said learning and development was central to job satisfaction and retention.

However, 44 per cent of respondents said a lack of time was the main reason for not taking part in training at work, while 29 per cent said inflexible working hours prevented them from participating.

Balvinder Johal, sector business development director at The Open University, said L&D remains at the core of satisfaction for those who want to “reach their full potential”. “The future will require more choice, driving better awareness, and rethinking the way learning is delivered in the workplace,” said Johal. 

Bullivant added that L&D had already started moving to a more agile model before the pandemic, and said hybrid working created the opportunity to provide learning “in a much more applicable and effective way – blended learning approaches, highly accessible and much more affordable.”