More action is needed to increase the uptake of flexible working arrangements. Data from the past decade (including the pandemic) continues to show low uptake or a decrease in many forms of flexible working arrangements. CIPD research suggests that UK workers face inequality due to a stark difference in employers offering flexible working practices, with just under half (46%) of employees saying they do not have flexible working arrangements in their current role.

The CIPD’s view is that flexible working practices should be the norm - not the exception - for all UK workers. With that in mind, our #FlexFrom1st campaign encourages employers to support flexible working for all and the right to request flexible working from day one of employment. We're also calling for a change to UK law to make flexible working requests a day one right for all employees.

Whilst the findings here are based on UK data, the broader trends and implications should be of interest wherever you are based.

A rise in homeworking but not in other forms of flexible working

Our examination of the ONS Labour Force Survey reveals that the increase in homeworking following the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing (rising from about 5% to 19%) but there has not been a similar rise in other forms of flexible working. In fact, the number of workers in a job-share, working flexi-time, compressed hours, part-time hours, term-time working, annualised hours and zero-hour contracts has decreased or remained stagnant.

The charts below explore the trends across different types of flexible working arrangements.

Annualised hours time series (April 2010 to December 2021)

Annualised hours

Under this arrangement a worker has a set number of hours within the year but may work more or less on a given week in order to meet demand. 5.5% of workers work annualised hours with a relatively even spread between age groups and genders.

Annualised hours working has been increasing in the last decade. However it declined during the pandemic.

The download here shows more detail.

Flexi-time working

Flexi-time offers workers the chance to decide the start and end times of their day as well as their breaks (though often within certain limits). 13.1% of workers use flexi−time with a relatively even spread between age groups and genders.

Flexi-time working has been increasing for much of the last decade and despite a blip during the pandemic, continues to grow.

The download here shows more detail.

Four and a half day week

The ONS define this type of working as “typically involving the normal working week finishing early on Fridays. The short day need not necessarily be Friday, but this is the most obvious and common day. This working pattern is full-time with compressed hours”. This is not a very common policy and only 0.6% of workers work this type of arrangement.

Four and a half day week working has been relatively stable over the past decade.

The download here shows more detail.

Home working time series (April 2010 to December 2021)

Homeworking

There are various definitions of homeworking but in this instance, we have used a strict definition in which the job is based at home. During the pandemic this rose to around 19.0% of workers.

Homeworking had been increasing slowly for a number of years but this accelerated with the onset of COVID-19. Homeworking has gone from one in 20 workers pre-pandemic, to one in five today.

The download here shows more detail.

Job shares

The ONS define job sharing as “a type of part-time working. A full-time job is divided between, usually, two people. The job sharers work at different times, although there may be a changeover period.” Only 0.3% of workers work this type of arrangement and the vast majority of these are women.

Job shares account for a small proportion of the workforce. This proportion was declining in the pre-pandemic era and continued to decline during the pandemic.

The download here shows more detail.

Nine day fortnight time series (April 2010 to December 2021)

Nine day fortnight workers

The ONS define this way of working as follows: “In this pattern, individual employees have one day off every other week. The actual day off may vary so long as the employee keeps to an alternating pattern of one 5-day week followed by one 4-day week. This working pattern is full-time with compressed hours.” It is not a very common policy and only 0.4% work this type of arrangement.

The nine day fortnight is a relatively niche form of flexible working. Despite this it has been trending up over the last decade.

The download here shows more detail.

Part-time working time series (April 2010 to December 2021)

Part-time workers

As the name implies, part-time workers work a fraction of the hours of a full-time worker. This is the most popular form of flexible working, despite the decrease seen during the pandemic. 24.7% of workers are part-time and this group is largely female.

Part-time working dropped significantly during the pandemic and has still not recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

The download here shows more detail.

Term-time working time series (April 2010 to December 2021)

Term-time working

The ONS defines term-time working as follows: “Employees work during the school or college term. Unpaid leave is taken during the school holidays, although their pay may be spread equally over the year.” 4.3% of workers have a term-time working arrangement. Unsurprisingly the vast majority of these work in the education sector and are women.

Term-time working has slowly declined in the past decade with a sharp drop during the pandemic.

The download here shows more detail.

Zero-hours contracts

Under this arrangement a worker does not have a fixed number of hours. Despite plenty of media attention this type of working arrangement only accounts for 3.2% of workers. Younger workers are most likely to work this type of arrangement and hospitality is the industry with the highest number of these workers.

Zero-hours contracts have increased in prevalence in the past decade though starting from a low base. These contracts fell sharply during the pandemic as sectors that make use of them were affected by closure.

The download here shows more detail.

Unmet demand and potential

CIPD survey data shows a real unmet demand around flexible working arrangements. There is real potential to increase other types of flexible working such as job shares. The proportion working a job-share is also currently very small with very few in senior positions. This seems like a missed opportunity. For employees, job shares can often facilitate progression, and the ability to balance personal commitments. Employers can benefit from two sets of skills, knowledge and experience.

Now is the time for organisations to increase their flexible working offerings not pull back. The CIPD encourages organisations to collaborate with their employees to find flexible solutions that are mutually beneficial.

Flexibility is needed in hours worked as well as in location of work

Employers need 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.

Having the ability 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. It also supports peoples’ wellbeing and productivity. Fairness of opportunity in working flexibly ensures organisations do not end up with divisions or a two-tier workforce.

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