Use of flexible working hours has dropped during the pandemic

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flexible workingWhile working from home has surged in recent months, the use of flexible working hours – such as part-time, flexi-time and compressed hours – has fallen over the course of the Coronavirus pandemic, according to new CIPD analysis.

The CIPD’s analysis of the ONS Labour Force Survey of 74,832 people (October to December 2020) claims that homeworking (flexible location) is the only arrangement that has increased since the onset of the pandemic. This is despite many people needing to balance work with other commitments, such as homeschooling, childcare or other caring responsibilities, or volunteering.

Comparing different flexible working arrangements used in April-June 2020 to those used in October-December 2020 highlights a downward trend emerging for all flexible hours arrangements:

• The use of part-time working has fallen from 28.3 percent to 27.6 percent
• The use of flexi-time has fallen from 12.7 percent to 12.6 percent
• The use of annualised hours has fallen from 6.4 percent to 6.2 percent
• In contrast, homeworking is the only form of flexible working arrangement that has increased during this time, from 7.8 percent to 10.1 percent. When comparing the last quarter of 2020 with January-March 2020, homeworking has roughly doubled from 5.3 percent to 10.1 percent.

The research suggests that many workers are missing out on the benefits of using arrangements such as flexi-time (altered start and finish times), part-time hours, annualised hours (a total number of hours for the year, worked over different patterns each week or month) and job shares. It also risks creating divisions or a ‘two-tier’ workforce of those who can work from home and those who need to attend the workplace and have little flexibility in how they work.

In response, the CIPD is urging employers to increase access to a range of flexible working options, to address inequalities in the workforce and give people a greater say over not just where they work but when. The CIPD is also calling for organisations and the government to make the right to request flexible working a day-one right through its #FlexFrom1st campaign, rather than after 26 weeks of employment as is the current requirement.

“Homeworking must not be the only flexible working arrangement available”

Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the CIPD, comments: “There’s been a huge shift to homeworking since the Coronavirus pandemic and this has proved to be positive for a lot of people, with many organisations now looking at how to provide more choice in where people work as we come out of the lockdowns. But our analysis shows a concerning downward trend emerging for all other forms of flexible working. If the use of other flexible working arrangements continues to fall this will drive many questions about fairness and equality in the workplace for those whose jobs require them to be in a place of work.

“Homeworking must not be the only flexible working arrangement available, and employers should take action to offer and encourage the uptake of a broad range of options that give opportunities for everyone to have more choice and flexibility in how they work. More flexible working in all its forms helps to attract and retain people with a broad diversity of needs and expectations about how they work, thereby fostering more diverse and inclusive workplaces. It can also be good for wellbeing and productivity.

“We have all learned a lot over the last year and we should take these learnings forward to put people first and move to flexible working becoming the norm, not an exception. That’s why the CIPD is calling for the right to request flexible working from day, so everyone can benefit from having more choice and a say in when and how they work.”