Flexible working - giving flexibility over where, when and the hours people work - is increasingly in demand but the number of quality flexible jobs falls well short of that demand. There is an opportunity for employers to do more to provide flexibility for the benefit of all employees and organisations.
This factsheet outlines different types of flexible working arrangements, including part-time and compressed hours, remote working and job-shares. It looks at the potential benefits of flexible working, both direct and indirect. It offers the UK legal perspective and some ideas on how flexible working can be implemented, how common barriers can be overcome, and how people professionals can support staff opting for more flexible working arrangements.
What is flexible working?
‘Flexible working’ describes a type of working arrangement which gives a degree of flexibility on how long, where, when and at what times employees work.
Flexible working practices include:
Work is generally considered part-time when employees are contracted to work anything less than full-time hours.
A worker remains on a permanent contract but can take paid/unpaid leave during school holidays’
A form of part-time working where two (or occasionally more) people share the responsibility for a job between them.
Allows employees to choose, within certain set limits, when to begin and end work.
Compressed working weeks (or fortnights) don’t necessarily involve a reduction in total hours or any extension in individual choice over which hours are worked. The central feature is reallocation of work into fewer and longer blocks during the week.
The total number of hours to be worked over the year is fixed bit there is variation over the year in the length of the working day and week. Employees may or may not have an element of choice over working patterns.
Working remotely on a regular basis:
Employees work all or part of their working week at a location remote from the employer’s workplace. This can be at home or elsewhere, and can also be called mobile or teleworking.
This permits employees to work all or part of their working week at a location remote from the employer’s workplace.
Career breaks, or sabbaticals, are extended periods of leave – normally unpaid – of up to five years or more.
There are no fixed hours, but only an output target that an individual is working towards.
An individual has no guarantee of a minimum number of working hours, so they can be called upon as and when required and paid just for the hours they work.
The list above isn’t exhaustive:
Flexible working can include other practices for example employee self-rostering, shift-wrapping or taking time off for training.
Flexible working arrangements can be formal or informal. Some organisations choose to amend the written employment contract when new working arrangements are out in place, and/or include flexible working policies in the employer’s handbook. However, some forms of flexible working, such as working from home, are likely to be offered informally, for example in agreement with an employee’s line manager.
Flexible working in the time of Coronavirus
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen businesses adopt flexible working practices like remote working at an unprecedented Rate. Not only does this protect the workforce and provide business continuity, they support broader, official measures to curb the outbreak. Home or remote working can mean people avoid lengthy commutes and have fewer distractions than in an environment. But it can also result in people over-working and feeling isolated, so a focus on health and wellbeing is essential.
Clearly, home/remote working is not suitable for all jobs as it’s best suited to knowledge work with clearly-defined tasks. In some cases, it might be possible to combine elements of remote and office/site-based working. Or for service or manufacturing staff, organisations might be able to embed more flexible working when it comes to start and finish times or shift patterns.
Take-up of flexible working in the UK and equality of access
While the findings show that just over half of UK workers are already working flexibly in some way, with those in higher-level occupations most able to use flexible working to support their work-life balance, we also see that flexible working is not delivering for all workers. There remain unmet demands and a lack of equality of access to flexible working. Among employees who have no access to flexible working in at least one form that is not currently available to them. Employees who have flexible working arrangements that reduce their hours are more likely to indicate negative career implications. This has implications for equality, as these arrangements are more likely to be used by women.
There’s also an inclusion risk as the gap is set to grow between home working and other employees who have to go to the physical workspace and have little flexibility. It’s often essential workers and lower-paid front-line staff who are not able to work from home and it is crucial that these workers are not left behind when we think about flexible working.
The CIPD are currently co-chairing a Government Flexible Working Task force to promote wider understanding and use of inclusive flexible work and working practices. It brings together policy makers, employer groups, unions and employee representative groups, research groups and professional bodies. Members of the Taskforce are collectively using their ability to reach and influence thousands of employers to encourage them to advertise jobs as flexible by using the strapline ‘Happy to talk Flexible Working’ in their job advertisements regardless of level or pay grade.
The CIPD collaborated with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to produce short videos for employers who have signed up to the Working Forward Campaign to support pregnant women and new mothers at work.
The CIPD also produced cross-sector flexible working guidance and a toolkit for HR professionals focusing on how to improve and promote flexible working uptake, successfully implement it, and measure and evaluate its impact.
The resources mentioned in this factsheet are available from the CIPD website