Getting flexible about flexible working

By Richard Dunstan, Workflex blog editor

British workers want flexible working – but only 6% of job ads offer it.

So ran the headline in the Guardian earlier this month, as it reported new research by the Timewise consultancy revealing that more than 14 million British workers – almost half the working population – would like (more)  flexibility in their working hours or location. Yet, despite advances in technology and substantial changes in how and were people work, analysis by Timewise of 3.5 million UK-based job vacancies found that less than one in ten of advertised new jobs offer both decent pay and the opportunity to work flexibly.

The research found that the proportion of jobs advertised with flexible working options varies considerably between regions, from sector to sector, and depending on the job role. Candidates looking for a flexible job have relatively greater opportunities in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the north of England, while jobs within the engineering, manufacturing and creative industries rank the lowest in terms of flexible working options.

Urging employers to “use the F-word” when designing new job roles and advertising vacancies, co-author and Timewise CEO Karen Mattison said:

The world of work has experienced a revolution – technological advances and recent legislation [such as the right to request flexible working] have facilitated a huge growth in flexible working, yet this has not been reflected in in hiring practices. Businesses are missing out, as they consistently fail to realise just how how important flexibility is to people looking for a new role. It’s time to reboot the way we recruit in Britain.

Here at Working Families, we couldn’t agree more. Despite great progress in both the law and employer best practice, negative assumptions about flexible and family-friendly working persist. Reduced-hours working is heavily gendered and all too often viewed by managers as a lack of commitment, with senior roles and flexible working wrongly held to be incompatible. As a result, and as highlighted previously on this blog, there are simply too few good quality part-time or otherwise flexible, putting single parents and parents of disabled children at particular disadvantage. Furthermore, as recent research by think tank IPPR has concluded, the “concentration of part-time work outside of high-level jobs may increase the tendency for women to work in occupations below their skill level”.

That is why, during the General Election campaign, we urged all the political parties to increase the supply of good quality, flexible jobs by adopting a ‘flexible by default’ approach to job design and recruitment in the public sector. This would ensure that all jobs in central and local government are advertised on a flexible basis unless there is a specific, good business reason not to. Camden Council and others are already blazing a trail in this regard, demonstrating how flexible working can “help solve problems of family worklessness as well as improve workforce performance and efficiency”.

We also suggested that new ministers should act and recruit business leaders as ‘flexible working’ champions, and that they should encourage private sector employers to ‘use the F-word’ from the outset by adopting our Happy to talk flexible working logo and strapline in their recruitment process.


The logo and strapline are the result of work by the Promoting Flexible Working to Private Sector Employers Working Group (PSWG) for the Department for Work & Pensions . Led by Sarah Jackson, CEO of Working Families, the PSWG brought together employer bodies, the TUC and recruiters to find practical ways of delivering cultural change, outside the legislative process.

Too few jobs are advertised flexibly, and we know that employers who only advertise their vacancies on a full-time basis may be fishing from a very narrow talent pool. The strapline is intended to encourage employers to think about job design and flexibility before recruitment, and to give potential applicants the confidence to ask about alternative work patters at the selection stage.

We realise that putting a logo on a job ad isn’t the whole story. So we’ve also produced some simple guidance about job design to help employers consider what the job really needs and what type of flexible working might work best.

But being Happy to Talk is a great start!


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