Lack of flexibility sees four million people change careers, CIPD study finds

HR body says businesses offering flexible working options will find it easier to attract talent and create fairer workplaces

Credit: Zhuweiyi49, Pop_jop/Getty Images

An estimated four million people have changed careers and two million have left their jobs in the past year because of a lack of flexibility at work, a new study from the CIPD has found. 

The research, which surveyed 4,000 senior decision makers and employees, also discovered that a growing number of organisations offer flexible working from day one of employment (39 per cent in 2023 vs 36 per cent in 2021) and 14 per cent intend to offer it before the government legislation announced in December 2022 takes effect. 

However, half (49 per cent) of employers are still unaware of the upcoming legislation, which will make requests for flexible working an employee’s right from their first day of employment. 

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The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill, first introduced by MP Yasmin Qureshi, aims to give employees greater access to flexibility over where, when, and how they work. 

Under the new law, employers are required to consult with employees before rejecting their flexible working request, and workers have the right to make two requests in any 12-month period, while previously they could only make one. 

Claire McCartney, senior resourcing and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, said more should be done to educate and prepare businesses for the pending legislation, and noted that firms “don’t have to wait to make changes to their working practices and should, whenever possible, offer the option from the first day of employment”. 

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McCartney further advised that organisations could offer various flexible working practices for the majority of roles, including flexi-time, compressed hours or hybrid working, and that, by mentioning flexible working options in job advertisements, employers could expand their talent pools for hiring and create “fairer and inclusive workplaces”. 

According to the study, 21 per cent of employees with a disability or long-term health problem have left a job in the last year, and a third (32 per cent) of this group have changed careers/professions because of a lack of flexible working options. 

Julie White, workplace wellbeing consultant and founder of Bright White Life, said flexible hours were a “crucial part of being able to manage their condition” for people with disabilities, especially if their conditions could “flare up” with little notice. 

White advised employers that are unable to be flexible with working hours to “be flexible about where the work can be done”.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach for this issue, so making sure you work with employees to find a solution is key. Flexible working in its many forms, be that adjusting working hours, shift patterns, or where someone works from, often costs nothing but can be hugely beneficial for individuals to manage symptoms while still delivering on their work commitments,” she said. 

In addition, in the CIPD survey, more than two thirds (71 per cent) of workers said a flexible working pattern was important to them when considering a new role, while 69 per cent felt the same about the ability to work remotely. 

Gemma Dale, lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University and co-founder of The Work Consultancy, pointed out that surveys have consistently indicated since the pandemic that employees are prepared to move jobs for more flexibility, with some even ranking it higher in importance than salary. “Employees are willing to put flex over other benefits including pay, and organisations should consider their approach to flexible working as part of their employer brand and talent acquisition strategy,” she said. 

Although requests will be "legally available" starting on day one, Dale said "we will see more requests coming in at the recruitment stage", since applicants want to know what their options are. “Organisations should update their policies and instructions and inform people managers of the changes to ensure that they are current,” she added. 

“To meet this need, and take advantage of the demand for flexible working and its ability to attract talent, organisations should be proactive. They should advertise their flexible working policies on their website, and make it clear how candidates can engage in conversations during the hiring process.”