Majority of employees now working flexibly but just one in 10 job ads mentions flexibility

Most full-time employees in the UK now enjoy some degree of flexible working, with men and younger workers increasingly likely to shun the traditional nine-to-five, a study published today has found.

Timewise’s survey of more than 3,000 people found that 63 per cent of permanent, full-time employees now work flexibly, using a broad definition of the term that includes those who often work from home, as well as people on reduced hours or flexible working patterns.

Seven out of 10 millennials working full-time now do so flexibly, according to the research, and men (84 per cent) are almost as likely to want to work part-time or flexibly as women (91 per cent).

Additionally, a quarter (25 per cent) of full-time workers said they would prefer to work part-time, even allowing for a reduced salary. Recent analysis of Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures suggested the UK now has more people who are overemployed and would like to reduce their hours than those looking for additional hours.

“I think a lot of us underestimated just how normal flexible working has become now,” said Karen Mattison, joint CEO of Timewise. “The vast majority of the working population either has or wants some form of flexibility.”

But Mattison added that decisions about flexibility were still made locally by managers, rather than as part of a strategy, which meant flexibility was often incompatible with progression or was not accepted by managers.

“Flexible working is still quite a reactive process in many businesses,” she said. “It often comes in as a concession. If you assume the norm in your organisation is Monday to Friday, nine-to-five then if someone asks for something different then you know them and trust them and you’ll move things around for them. But when they leave, you go back to the norm.

“Flexibility can become a trap if you can’t take it with you to your next job. That hurts job mobility and means some people are trading flexibility for career progression.”

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said the headline figures on flexible working, while positive, masked a number of structural issues: “We know from our research that a significant proportion of workers enjoy flexibility. But most flexible work is either flexi-time or working part-time – and part-time work in particular can be very restrictive and isn’t associated with career progression.

“Home working and remote working tends to be more for managers and senior professionals. In some cases that is down to the nature of people’s jobs, but organisational culture and managerial attitudes also negatively affect flexible workers.”

The survey found that fewer than one in 10 roles paying more than £20,000 on a full-time equivalent basis were advertised as being flexible. In August, the Equality and Human Rights Commission called for legislation to build flexibility into all recruitment advertising.

The low awareness of flexibility among recruiters was indicative of the lack of strategic understanding of the issue, Mattison suggested. “You can’t just expect the recruitment function to do it if it’s not part of a strategy,” she said. “The conversation with recruiters is about how opening up to flexible working will open you up to a better range of candidates.

“If you’re already flexible as part of how you hire then you should be shouting about it from the rooftop as part of the hiring process, because it’s a real differentiator.”

Willmott suggested that legislation would be less effective in solving recruitment issues around flexible working than a national campaign to increase the variety of flexible work available. “We know take-up of flexible working has broadly plateaued over the last 10 years or so and we need to address that,” he said.

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