Employers must do more to address flexible working inequality

flexible workingThe CIPD is warning of the risks of potentially creating a two-tier workforce after its analysis of official data claims the use of different flexible working arrangements is unequal across the UK – with some areas exposed as ‘flexible working notspots’.

Using data from the ONS Labour Force Survey, the CIPD has ranked UK nations and regions from the most to the least flexible in terms of working arrangements. The analysis claims that workers in South East England have the best flexible working options, followed by the East of England, while workers in the Yorkshire and Humber are least likely to have flexibility in their role.

The regional differences in flexible working arrangements tend to reflect the nature of work and the predominance of particular sectors in different parts of the country. Professional, scientific and technical jobs, alongside administrative work have historically seen more flexible working than manufacturing or operational type jobs. There is also a relationship to higher skill/higher pay jobs that exist in London and the South East. These roles tend to offer more autonomy and better bargaining power over conditions, including working from home. Lower skilled roles (which are harder to do from home) exist in areas such as Yorkshire and Humber, where workers appear to have very little flexibility at all.

To compile the league table (below), the CIPD looked at three types of flexible working:

• Flexibility over when someone works (flexible hours – including flexi-time, annualised hours, term-time working, job share, four and a half day week, zero hours contract)
• Flexibility over where someone works (those who work from home)
• Informal flexibility (how start/end time is determined, ability to take a couple of hours off during the working day to deal with personal matters, able to take leave at short notice, frequency of unforeseen work demands or available for work in free time)

Generally, the analysis suggests that in regions where employees report better flexibility in hours, they tend to have less flexibility over where they work (the North East comes out top for flexible hours, but bottom for flexibility of location). Regions with greater flexibility in terms of where employees work have the opposite problem, with less use of flexible hours and informal flexibility (Londoners have the best flexibility around where they work, but many don’t have flexibility in their hours or informal flexibility with their employer).

Previous CIPD research claims the use of flexible hours – such as part-time or flexi-time – has dropped over the last year, while working from home has increased. The CIPD warns that if the downward trend in flexible hours continues, many workers may miss out on the benefits of having more flexible options available to them. Employers should therefore ensure everyone has access to a variety of flexible working arrangements and work to find solutions that best suit individual preferences alongside business needs.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”Flexi-time, compressed hours or job shares will empower people to have greater control and flexibility in their working life.”[/perfectpullquote]

To address this and to boost the number of people using a variety of flexible working arrangements, the CIPD is calling for organisations and the government to make the right to request flexible working a day-one right for all employees through its #FlexFrom1st campaign. Currently, employees must have worked for an employer for at least 26 weeks to be eligible.

Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD comments: “Employers should think creatively about the flexibility they can provide to those that need to be in the physical workplace as well as those who can work remotely, ensuring everyone has fairness of opportunity. Having a wide range of flexible options is necessary to support the whole workforce and we want to see an increase in the uptake of all forms of flexible working, regardless of the type of work someone does or the region they’re in.

“An increase in the use of different arrangements, such as flexi-time, compressed hours or job shares will empower people to have greater control and flexibility in their working life. It will also help organisations to foster more diverse and inclusive workplaces and can improve wellbeing and productivity. The CIPD is calling for the right to request flexible working from day one, so everyone can benefit from having more choice and a say in when and how they work.”