In recent years there has been increasing focus on diversity and inclusion within both public policy and the people profession. The Government has published the Race Disparity Audit, introduced gender pay gap reporting and is currently developing an approach to mandatory ethnicity pay reporting. However, looking at or measuring levels of diversity is only the first step to creating inclusive workplaces.
One valuable tool in improving workplace equality and creating inclusive cultures is flexible working. It can help parents return to work, reduce the gender pay gap, help people with fluctuating health conditions stay in work and help carers to balance their work and caring responsibilities.
Flexible working is defined as working arrangements which allow employees to vary the amount, timing or location of their work, usually to the mutual benefit of both the individual and organisation.
Specifically, this can cover a wide range of working arrangements, including part-time working, job-sharing, flexitime, compressed and annualised hours, term-time-only working, working from home and mobile working. Many businesses do offer some forms of informal flexibility without necessarily realising that it counts as a form of flexible working. They therefore don’t gain the full potential of investing in flexible working practices in a strategic way.
In some workplaces, a lack of understanding or negative attitudes from managers towards flexible working mean it is often seen as a benefit exclusively for parents. While it’s true that flexible working arrangements can help parents to balance their work and home lives, research shows that the vast majority of us (87%) would like to work more flexibly - especially young people. Studies have shown it can even motivate us more than financial incentives.
Since 2014, everyone in the UK has a statutory right to request flexible working. And while 99% of businesses say flexible working is important to competitiveness, business investment and job creation, the number of people working flexibly has plateaued over the last decade. Furthermore, most jobs (89%) are still not advertised as flexible.
The CIPD’s UK Working Lives 2019 survey revealed a lack of equality in access to flexible working, with those in higher-level occupations more able to access flexible working arrangements to support their work–life balance. Of employees who have no access to flexible working, 78% would like it. Over half of workers (55%) would also like to work flexibly in at least one form that is not currently available to them.
Overall, across all organisations 54% of employees said they worked flexibly. This was slightly higher in larger firms (250 employees or more) at 58%, and lower within small firms (10–49 employees) at 45%. The share within all micro (1–9 employees) and medium-sized firms (50–250 employees) was around the average of 54%.
There is still a significant proportion of the labour market who could benefit from flexible working arrangements, but don’t have access to them. Not only does this mean that some groups are locked out of the labour market, it also represents a huge gap between the reality and potential for staff engagement, retention and productivity in the UK.
The former Prime Minister, Theresa May, once challenged business to improve workplace equality by advertising all jobs as flexible from ‘day one’. To address this challenge, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the CIPD established the Flexible Working Task Force with the aim of improving the provision and uptake of flexible working, for everyone.
The Task Force have since published a report on the trends of flexible working overtime, guidance for employers on how to hire flexibly, and an evidence-based bitesize business case for flexible working. The Task Force will also feed into the review of the right to request flexible working.
The Government is consulting on a proposal to create greater transparency around an employer’s flexible working practices and parental leave policies. The consultation, Good Work Plan - Proposals to Support Families, was published in mid-July and is seeking views on proposals to better support parents to balance work and family life. This part of the ‘family friendly working’ consultation considers whether employers should have a duty to consider if a job can be done flexibly and make that clear when advertising a role.
The CIPD have been working with the Department for Business to develop their thinking on this issue and have been gathering evidence to respond to the consultation ourselves.
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. We are calling on our members to have their say by responding to the consultation.