‘Seize the opportunity of making flexible working the norm’ says Minister
Published: 8 Mar 2021
We welcome calls for flexible working to be ‘normalised’ by employers: now we need a new Employment Bill to make it law
By Simon Kelleher, Head of Policy & Influencing at Working Families.
Last Friday, the Equalities Minister, Liz Truss, put out a press release calling on employers to make flexible working standard for their employees. It’s a really welcome signal from the government that (we hope) shows some serious intent to put their weight behind efforts to get rid of the rigid 9-5 working culture that cuts out many talented parents and carers from the workforce.
The minister said: “now is a chance to seize the opportunity of making flexible working the norm, rather than something employees have to specially request”.
So what prompted this? These comments were in response to the findings of a new research trial from the government’s Behavioural Insights Team, done in conjunction with the jobs website Indeed.
This research, the largest of its type, confirmed what we have long known at Working Families: that advertising jobs flexibly widens the potential pool of talent for businesses and opens-up opportunities for a much more diverse range of people.
The team behind the research estimate that simply prompting employers to advertise new jobs as flexible could create 174,000 more flexible jobs. This is welcome news for everyone, but particularly for women and people with caring responsibilities, who have been hit the hardest by the pandemic.
While the ‘working from home revolution’ of the past year has seen up to 40% of the working population experience remote working, access to flexible working has not been equal across genders, professions, social groups or location. Flexible working is much more than just working from home – it includes options of part time hours, job shares and flexible hours. In essence, it means setting out clear expectations for a job, and then looking at how an individual can most effectively deliver it, throwing out old fashioned notions of 9-5pm and refusing to fall prey to the culture of ‘presentee-ism’, focusing instead on results. This kind of flexibility works best – as the Ministers comments allude to – when it’s built into the job design phase, rather than being an afterthought.
With growing demand for flexible forms of working, and the government keen to spread opportunities across the country, our eyes are fixed firmly on the governments promised Employment Bill, due at some time this year. We want the Bill to build on the findings from this study and ‘prompt’ employers to advertise roles flexibly by making it a duty for recruiters, unless there is a good business reason not to. Similarly, the Bill should remove the restrictions on when an employee can request flexible working, making it a day one right and not limited to a request every six months.
While we know that 9 out of 10 parents want to work flexibly, only 6 in 10 work actually do and only 2 in 10 jobs are advertised with options to work flexibly. Only by sending a strong message though the Employment Bill can the government deliver the culture shift people want and create an inclusive economic recovery that opens-up opportunity and drives productivity.
Our focus is on making this a reality, working with parents, carers, employers and politicians. This last year has been incredibly tough. One good thing that can come of our experience over the pandemic is taking the opportunity to make a dramatic shift in how we think about work life balance, and work together to build back better than before.