This month sees the launch of practical new CIPD cross-sector guidance and toolkit to help organisations at different stages in their flexible working journeys. This supports our call for organisations to offer a greater range of quality flexible working options to all employees to improve business and employee outcomes.

Flexible working is an important area of focus for us at the CIPD. We are co-chairing with the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) the government supported Flexible Working Task Force, which is campaigning to increase the uptake of flexible working. We have launched as part of the Taskforce, guidance for employers on both the business case for flexible working and how to hire flexibly and have recently published our policy review of flexible working in the UK. The CIPD has also rolled out its Steps Ahead Mentoring programme to jobseekers who find it hard to access the labour market due to a lack of flexible working and have piloted a Flexible Hiring Champions programme in partnership with Timewise: upskilling 20 volunteers to champion flexible hiring in their own organisations.

Benefits of flexible working

Research shows that the vast majority of us (87%) would like to work more flexibly – and there is a strong demand for flexible working from men and women and across all age ranges. It can even motivate us more than financial incentives. According to the case study organisations we examined, quality flexible working can help organisations:

  • address skills shortages
  • attract and retain talent and support diversity
  • narrow their gender pay gap
  • improve employee job satisfaction and loyalty
  • support well-being
  • empower organisations to be more agile and responsive to change.

Take-up and equality of access

Everyone in the UK has had a statutory right to request flexible working since 2014, and 99% of businesses say flexible working is important to competitiveness, business investment and job creation. However, the number of people working flexibly has plateaued over the last decade and most jobs (89%) are still not advertised as flexible.

The CIPD’s UK Working Lives 2019 survey indicates that those in higher-level occupations are most able to use flexible working to support their work–life balance and that there remain unmet demands and a lack of equality of access to flexible working. Among employees who have no access to flexible working, 78% would like it. More than half the workforce (55%) would also like to work flexibly in at least one form that is not currently available to them.

New guidance on implementing flexible working

Despite widespread demand for flexibility and significant policy drivers to improve flexible working and increase its use, the evidence relating to how flexible working can best be implemented has so far been drawn from a fairly small body of research. In collaboration with Affinity Health at Work, the CIPD therefore conducted in-depth case study and action learning research designed to guide practice around:

  • Improving and promoting the uptake of flexible working
  • Successfully implementing flexible working
  • Measuring and evaluating the impact of flexible working

Nine organisations contributed case studies covering a range of sectors, traditionally viewed as challenging when it comes to flexible working such as construction, frontline healthcare, education, manufacturing and transport. Together they are innovating in finding flexible working solutions that enhance their reputation, their employee proposition and their business and service delivery. For a full summary of the case studies and practice highlights see Enabling flexible working: cross-sector case studies and practice highlights.


Drawing on the cross-sector case study and action learning research, our ten key recommendations for organisations implementing flexible working, are:

  1. Clarify the benefits of flexible working to the organisation and to individuals.
  2. Find the compelling hook or business imperative that will gain traction in the organisation.
  3. Communicate to dispel myths around what flexible working is and who it is for, share successes and build communities.
  4. Find creative ways to encourage a range of flexible working practices for all employees – both in terms of innovative flexible working initiatives and creative ways to build flexibility into job roles that have not traditionally been seen as suitable for flexible working.
  5. Aim to hire flexibly and design the jobs to suit the flexible pattern (that is, full-time jobs are not squeezed into part-time hours).
  6. Ensure ongoing access to development and career conversations for flexible workers.
  7. Set the organisational context and consider organisational facilitators and barriers, including creating a supportive organisational culture, underpinned by leadership and HR support.
  8. Gain manager buy-in through communicating benefits and sharing success stories and providing support and guidance.
  9. Consider the facilitators and barriers at manager, team and individual levels.
  10. Measure and evaluate flexible working and learn from trials using quantitative and qualitative measures.

Working together to achieve culture change

Greater take-up and equality of access to flexible working will take substantial cultural change. The people profession has a key role to play in unlocking the full benefits of flexible working. By effectively embedding, monitoring and evaluating flexible working provisions, we can improve work and working lives for the benefit of individuals, businesses and society.

About the author

Claire McCartney, Senior Policy Adviser, Resourcing and Inclusion

Claire specialises in the areas of equality, diversity and inclusion, flexible working, resourcing and talent management. She has also conducted research into meaning and trust at work, age diversity, workplace carers and enterprise and has worked on a number of international projects. She is the author of several reports and articles and regularly presents at seminars and conferences.

More on this topic

Flexible working: Guidance for people professionals on planning and managing

This guide has been developed for people professionals who want to maximise the benefits of flexible working within their organisations, incorporating flexibility into people plans, strategy, and their employee value proposition.

How to improve flexible working in your organisation

Use our flexible working quiz to receive tailored recommendations

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