Firms not doing enough to support flexible working

flexible workingA new study from academics at the University of Kent and the University of Birmingham claims that organisations still have work to do when it comes to understanding people’s experiences of flexible working. The report titled ‘Working from home during the COVID-19 lockdown: Changing preferences and the future of work’ was undertaken by researchers at the Work Autonomy, Flexibility and Work-Life Balance Project (Kent), and the Equal Parenting Project (Birmingham).

The research explored how employees perceived the support they received from managers and organisations, how employees shared housework and childcare (if applicable) between them and their partner, the impact on productivity and what their attitudes to flexible working in the future were following the COVID-19 lockdown.

The data collected from the survey suggests that mothers were taking on a lot more housework and childcare during lockdown. In fact, during lockdown, mothers were also likely to undertake their paid work in the evenings to cope with the increased childcare. However, the research also found that Dads stepped up during lockdown, taking on more childcare.

The report also claims that fathers that took more than two weeks leave (more than two weeks paternity leave) after the birth or adoption of their child were more likely to have their female partner report that childcare was being shared equally during lockdown (compared to fathers that did not take more than two weeks leave).

Overall, 30 percent of respondents reported that their productivity increased during lockdown. Indeed, many in the sample outlined that they wished to work from home in the future ‘to be more productive’ (40 percent for mothers, 43 percent of fathers, 49 percent of women without children, 46 percent of men without children).



[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Organisations moved quickly to support their employees to be able to fulfill their jobs[/perfectpullquote]

The research also looked into managerial support as well as the tools and support organisations supplied their employees during lockdown. 72.7 percent of those working from home said they felt their manager cared about the effects that work demands had on their personal and family life during lockdown where 65.9 percent said their managers has cared prior to lockdown. This suggest that the experience of lockdown has led to a broader understanding among managers of their employees responsibilities outside work.

Organisations moved quickly to support their employees to be able to fulfill their jobs. Only 41 percent of employees said they were supplied appropriate tools for homeworking before lockdown but during lockdown this increased sharply to 62 percent. Effective support for using those tools also increased from 47 percent to 65 percent, which the authors claim demonstrates that organisation have made significant investments into homeworking and the infrastructure around homeworking and flexible working have been greatly increased across the country, so it is likely that working from home will continue to be popular in the future.

The experience of being with family and loved ones for a prolonged period of time during lockdown led 76 percent of mothers and 73 percent of fathers to suggest they would like to work more flexibly in future so they can spend more time with their children. Furthermore, 64 percent of fathers and 59 percent of mothers also said that they would like to reduce their working hours to spend more time with family.

This reflects a possible shift in how housework and childcare may be shared between partners in future. 58.5 percent of non-parents also said they would like to work flexibly in the future in order to spend more time with family. 55 percent of respondents are now intending to apply for flexible working on return to the office.


Employer recommendations

  • Improve internal communication of flexible working policies to all employees
  • Advertise all positions (if possible) as open to flexible working as a strategy for improving employee attraction and inclusion.
  • Invest in new ways to connect with employees, to recognise their contribution and to celebrate successes when they are working from home.
  • Implement a reverse mentoring programme by Millennials with board and Senior Management Team members to help improve intergenerational understanding and explore changing cultural attitudes around presenteeism, flexible working, gender and caring.


Government recommendations

  • Make flexible work a day one entitlement for all to ensure that all employees are able to access the benefits experienced and to remove the stigma associated with using it.
  • Consider mandatory publishing within Gender Pay Gap (GPG) reporting for large organisations to outline whether or not they advertise all jobs as open to flexible working and whether it is available from day one and to include a question to ask whether companies have advertised positions as available.
  • Launch a communication exercise to promote flexible working (particularly to fathers) to detail the benefits and help address the perceived barriers and consequences.
  • Look at ways to support organisations to deal with wellbeing and mental health issues cause by the COVID-19 lockdown and long-term homeworking