Flexible furlough led to increased openness around part-time working, survey finds

Later stages of job retention scheme helped managers learn how to design part time work and plan resource to match peaks in demand, study says

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Nearly half of businesses have said the flexible furlough scheme helped their managers learn how to manage flexible and part-time staff, a study has found.

The poll of HR professionals and other senior business representatives, conducted by Cranfield School of Management and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), found 45 per cent believed the flexible aspect introduced towards the end of the coronavirus job retention scheme helped line managers learn how to design and manage part-time work more effectively.

A similar proportion (46 per cent) said it helped line managers learn how to better match resourcing with periods of peak demand for their business activity.

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The research, which also polled line managers, found 96 per cent were more flexible about where their employees worked after using flexible furlough, and that 87 per cent were more flexible about how their employees scheduled working hours.

Line managers were also more likely than senior business representatives to consider requests for part-time working (62 per cent and 39 per cent respectively).

Clare Kelliher, professor of work and organisation at Cranfield School of Management, said that the survey results were “heartening”.

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“Practical experience of trying out part-time working has helped to overcome some of the perceived barriers for employers around its feasibility and how to implement it in practice,” she said.

The flexible furlough scheme was first introduced in June 2020 and allowed furloughed employees to start working on reduced hours while remaining on the scheme. It was designed to allow businesses to scale up their output in line with business needs as the economy gradually reopened.

Firms using flexible furlough only paid employees full pay for the hours they worked, and paid the reduced furlough rate – which was then topped up by the government – for the rest of their employees’ contracted hours.

The study polled representatives from 208 UK businesses in February this year.

Anna Leach, deputy chief economist at the CBI, said the scheme has “fostered, even accelerated, large shifts in the nature of work and attitudes towards it”.

“We know that the future of work is a key priority for our members, who are conscious of their employees’ renewed focus on work-life balance and desire for more flexibility around the location and organisation of their work, against the backdrop of a very tight jobs market,” said Leach.

She added it was “particularly encouraging to see that this shift in attitudes is associated with positive financial situations for companies”, noting that the majority of respondents reported the financial wellbeing of their organisation was good or very good.

Office for National Statistics data from March this year showed that before the pandemic, a quarter (26 per cent) of UK employees worked part time. For some workers, this was to meet business needs, while for others, part-time work allowed them to meet requirements outside of work.