Employers ‘shooting themselves in the foot’ as number of job ads offering flexible working stagnates

Proportion increased by 1 per cent year on year, despite talent drought and growing employee expectations of hybrid options, report finds

Credit: Getty Images

A third (31 per cent) of jobs advertised in the UK include options to work flexibly as an employee benefit, Timewise’s Flexible Jobs Index 2023 has found.

This marks a rise of 1 per cent compared to last year, while the number of job adverts offering flexibility rose by 9 per cent in 2021 and 4 per cent in 2022.

The report said there was a discrepancy between employee expectations and employers, quoting research from the CIPD’s Flexible and hybrid working practices in 2023 report, which found 87 per cent of people want flexibility in their next role. 

Terry Payne, managing director of hubbul, a staffing app for flexible and temporary workers, told People Management: “By not offering flexible working opportunities in roles that allow for it, I can’t help but feel that employers are shooting themselves in the foot.

“It’s no secret that businesses are struggling with skills shortages, so to overlook the growing demand for flexible working seems short sighted, particularly in this economic climate.”

The term ‘flexible working’ encompasses part-time work and home working, each of which make up 12 per cent of adverts, as well as jobs that enable flexible working times, included in 4 per cent of job ads.

In addition, 11 per cent simply referred to ‘flexible working’, which Timewise warned is too general to be helpful for candidates.

Gary Cookson, director at Epic HR and author of HR for Hybrid Working, said the lack of growth in flexible job ads may signify we are “reaching the upper ranges of the amount of jobs that can have flexibility”. 

He said: “While it would be nice to think that all jobs could [have flexibility], the reality is different and some have to be performed at fixed times and locations. Perhaps most of those jobs that could have flexibility have already got it, so the rate of increase could be slowing as a result.”

The report demonstrated a clear divide between sectors, with office-based roles much more likely to offer flexibility. As many as 39 per cent of HR roles were advertised as flexible, as well as 38 per cent of finance and marketing positions.

In contrast, 10 per cent of construction, 11 per cent of maintenance and 13 per cent of repair jobs offered some form of flexible working.

Daniel Wheatley, associate professor in business and labour economics at University of Birmingham Business School, told People Management that flexible working has the potential to “improve” rather than hinder employer performance.

He also highlighted the opportunity it offered for organisations to “become a more inclusive employer, access a wider geographical labour pool [and] reduce costs”. 

Wheatley added that instead of addressing the “mismatch in the demands of job seekers relative to prospective employers’ offerings”, many companies have instead reverted to face-to-face working in the period since the pandemic, as a result of their concerns around productivity and employer disengagement.

Cookson recommended organisations “approach jobs as flexible by default and spend time redesigning tasks and jobs to allow for more flexibility, whether that be on where, when or how the task/job is done. Otherwise they will find employees seeking to leave to find organisations that better meet their needs.”

Nicky Elford, head of colleague propositions and policy at Lloyds Banking Group, sponsor of Timewise’s Flexible Jobs Index, said flexible working had allowed it to “attract a wider and diverse pool of talent. Through our Flexibility Works proposition launched earlier this year we have a range of options for our people including reduced hours, more informal everyday flexibility and increased flexibility for bank holidays. In addition, from 1 January 2024 all our jobs will default to be available for job sharing, regardless of role or level.”

The stagnation comes despite the legislation aimed at protecting employee’s rights to flexible working. From 2024, employers will be required to consult with employees before rejecting a flexible working request as part of the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act. 

The government additionally announced that workers will have the right to request flexible working from day one of a new job as part of the legislation.

To read the CIPD’s hybrid working guidance for people professionals, click here