Despite homeworking trend, job flexibility suffers

The pandemic has highlighted great inequalities between those that can work from home, and those that have no flexible working rights at all

Don’t let the pandemic fool you; the rise in homeworking has not meant more job flexibility. In fact, 19% of UK employees do not have any, according to a new report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). It also found that 46% of employees didn’t have access to flexible hours, part-time working, compressed working hours, or job sharing.

The HR body believes the shift to remote working due to COVID-19 has highlighted inequalities between those that enjoy flexible work perks and those that don’t. It found that 44% of employees haven’t worked remotely since the pandemic began where 92% said it was because the nature of their job prevented it. While 47% of employers said they plan to expand homeworking over the next year, less than a third will explore other flexible working options, leaving many workers with no job flexibility to speak of.

Going beyond homeworking

The findings reveal a discrepancy between employers’ plans for flexible working and what employees actually want. Forty-one per cent of employees said it was “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.” Seventy-five per cent of employees also said, “it is important that people who can’t work from home can work flexibly in other ways.”

If employers expand their remote working offerings without considering those who cannot work from home, they could face declining employee satisfaction and productivity levels and high staff turnover, and even worse, a workplace inequality issue at the heart of their business.

The research found that flexi-time, (adjusting core working hours around other responsibilities) was used by 21% of employees, but 39% said they would use it if it were offered. Part-time hours were used by 19%, yet 28% of those surveyed said they wanted it but did not have it. While only 3% of employees reported working compressed hours (working full-time hours in fewer days), 19% said they would use it if it were offered to them by employers.

Make job flexibility a legal right

On the back of the research, the CIPD is launching a campaign for employees to have flexible working rights from their first day in a job. Their FlexFrom1st campaign wants first-day flexible working rights to be made law. They also want employers to make work flexibility clear in job postings and review the reasons for only allowing workers the right to make a flexibility request annually. If their campaign is successful, it will overturn the current legislation on requesting flexible working, which can only happen if an employee has been with a business for 26 weeks.

Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the CIPD, said: “While many have hailed the pandemic as a driver for the adoption of flexible working, particularly around remote working, the reality for many is that this is not the case. We need a new understanding of what flexible working is and we need employers to embrace flexible working arrangements beyond working from home, 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 wellbeing and productivity. Fairness of opportunity in working flexibly ensures organisations do not end up with divisions or a two-tier workforce.”

London housing association, Peabody is a supporter of CIPD’s campaign and is deformalising flexible working requests within their organisation. In the future, requests will be discussed between staff and their line managers instead of through a formal HR process. Andrea Gordon, Director of HR at Peabody said: “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. 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 benefits of a flexible approach

While the CIPD study has shown that flexible working options are popular with employees, offering these perks could mean the difference between talent staying or leaving a business. Inflexible job policies such as rigid working hours and office presenteeism may not be attractive to workers with additional caregiving responsibilities. On the other hand, job flexibility could stem burnout by reducing employee stress and anxiety levels.

Overall studies have shown that flexible working can improve productivity, employee engagement, and encourage a better work/life balance, all of which are good for staff – and business.

However, not all employers are against job flexibility, the CIPD study showed that 50% of employers surveyed are more likely to grant homeworking and other flexible working requests once pandemic restrictions have eased. Yet, with little sign of life returning to normal soon, only time will tell if they will deliver on their promises.
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