Workers in Britain are facing inequality due to a stark difference in employers’ approaches to flexible working, with nearly half (46%) of employees saying they do not have flexible working arrangements - such as flexi-time, part-time working, compressed hours or job shares - in their current role. This is according to new research from the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development.

In response, and to promote fairness and inclusion at work, the CIPD is launching a new campaign, #FlexFrom1st, encouraging employers to support flexible working for all and the right to request flexible working from day one of employment. To reinforce these principles, the CIPD is also calling for a change in law to make the right to request flexible working a day-one right for all employees.
The CIPD’s survey of over 2000 employees found that while the Coronavirus pandemic has driven a huge increase in working from home, 44% of employees have not worked from home at all since the beginning of the crisis. The majority of those employees (92%) say that this is because the nature of their job doesn’t allow them to.
The CIPD also found:
  • Around a fifth (19%) of employees say they work for organisations that do not offer any flexible working arrangements
  • More than two in five (41%) employees say it’s unfair that some people can work from home while others have to continue to attend their place of work and have little flexibility in how they work
  • Three quarters (75%) of employees agree that it is important that people who can’t work from home can work flexibly in other ways
  • Less than a third (30%) of the 2,000 employers surveyed by the CIPD are planning to try to increase the uptake of other forms of flexible working besides home working over the next six to 12 months. In contrast, nearly half of organisations (47%) plan to take steps to enable more home and hybrid working over the same period

Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the CIPD, comments:

'While many have hailed the pandemic as a driver for the adoption of flexible working practices, particularly around home working, the reality for many is that this is not the case. We need a new understanding about what flexible working is and we need employers to embrace flexible working arrangements beyond home working, to give opportunity and choice to all. Employees may not always be able to change where they work, but they should have more choice and a say in when and how they work.

'Being able to build in flexible working arrangements, such as changes to hours, term-time working or job shares, will empower people to have greater control and flexibility in their working life. This is good for inclusion and opening up opportunities to people who have other constraints in being able to work standard hour weeks or in getting to a place of work. But it’s also good for people's wellbeing and productivity. Fairness of opportunity in working flexibly ensures organisations do not end up with divisions or a two-tier workforce.'

The CIPD encourages organisations to work in collaboration with their employees to find flexible solutions that are mutually beneficial. Employees who have flexibility report significantly higher levels of satisfaction with their job, work-life balance and control over their work. In addition, when businesses embrace flexible working they will reap the benefits through increased productivity, employee retention and attracting diverse talent when recruiting.

Peabody, the London housing association, is currently overhauling its approach to flexible working and removing the process of formal flexible working requests. Instead, its employees will be empowered to agree flexible working arrangements with their line managers and team, rather than making a formal request through HR.

Andrea Gordon, Director of HR at Peabody comments:

'Flexible working is very important to us, that is why our newly relaunched people strategy has been developed based on what our people have told us matters to them. Our ambition is to deliver a new approach that will bring a better work-life balance, increased performance and productivity, more fulfilling roles, a more diverse employee population, better physical and mental wellbeing and increased employee engagement. Ultimately, this is how we will achieve our group strategy and business goals. We fully support the CIPD’s Flex From 1st campaign as we believe everyone should have a right to request flexible working from day one.'

The CIPD research shows there is also a significant gap between the arrangements employees currently use compared to those that they would use if offered. Flexi-time is currently used by 21% of employees, yet desired by 39%, while part-time hours (4 days or less) are currently used by 19%, yet desired by 28%. Just 3% of employees reported that they currently use compressed hours (working full-time hours in fewer days), while 19% would use this arrangement if available.

Maria Cameron, a marketing consultant from Oxfordshire, has previously found flexible working opportunities difficult to come by. On her return from maternity leave in 2018 she was not able to find a suitable role within the company she had worked at for seven years that allowed her the flexibility of working four days a week. Instead, she took a course in digital marketing and went on to set up her own company.

Maria says:

'My need for flexibility has opened up some incredible avenues for me that I wouldn’t have had time to pursue if I’d just accepted the terms of the company I was working for. It’s not only enriched my family life, but also my own personal development. For me, flexible working was about putting some control back into my court – it has allowed me to live the life I want to lead, and I’m able to juggle my priorities.'

In response to the clear need to improve understanding around and take up of flexible working, the CIPD's #FlexFrom1st campaign calls for the right to request flexible working to be a day-one right for all employees. Currently, employees can only make a request for flexible working after 26 weeks of employment, and this is limited to one request every 12 months. The Government has committed to launching a consultation on broadening access to flexible working, although this would only cover Great Britain.

Employment law is devolved in Northern Ireland and the CIPD encourages the Northern Ireland Executive to also implement this change.

Encouragingly, half of employers (50%) say they will be more likely to grant requests for flexible working, besides working from home, once the pandemic restrictions have been relaxed. Therefore, an enhanced right to request flexible working from day one of employment could boost the number of people using flexible working arrangements.

The CIPD is calling for:

  • Employers to implement internal policies that allow their employees to request flexible working from day one of employment
  • Employers to stipulate that jobs can be done flexibly in job adverts, attracting more candidates who are looking for flexible roles
  • The government to make the right to request flexible working a right from day one for all employees, as well as revisiting the business reasons for rejection and the 12-month timeframe

For more information on the CIPD campaign visit: FlexFrom1st

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