CIPD 2016: Is flexibility as we know it at breaking point?

Brave new worlds are emerging from today’s narrative of turbulence. Emma Stewart’s energising overview of the gap between employees’ desire for flexibility and employers’ ability to offer it hinted at opportunities for companies to design and deliver more diverse workplaces.

Emma Stewart MBE, Joint CEO, Timewise
Joint CEO of national flexible working jobs board and flexible working consultancy, Timewise, Emma Stewart made a compelling case at the CIPD national conference of creating more inclusive recruitment strategies to attract, develop and retain the best talent.Drawing on Timewise, CIPD and wider research, Ms Stewart described a “broken” UK job market riven with inconsistency. For example, half of managers feel flexible working – defined as part-time, home-working, flexible start and finish times, term-time only contracts, job share or compressed hours – is incompatible with the nature of their work.Yet, 54 per cent of UK employees already work this way and 8.7 million full-time workers would like to do so. This mismatch suggests a high level of latent demand for work that is more flexible, and the benefits to businesses and individuals this can offer.

Snapshot of flexible working today

According to Timewise figures, just 8.7 per cent of jobs paying a salary of over £20,000 (full-time equivalent) are advertised with the option of flexible working. For lower paid work, this figure climbs to 20.2 per cent.This relationship between flexibility and low-paid work is partly why eight in ten of those surveyed who work flexibly feel the jobs market does not work for them.Three-quarters say they feel trapped in their current job because they can work flexibly – a benefit apparently so far not easily ported to more, better-paid roles or openly advertised.

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Rethinking job design

For Emma Stewart, shaking up the jobs market and better matching people with jobs that suit their career, lifestyle and personal aspirations can be achieved by moving managers to change their views on what flexible working can offer in a wider range of roles.“We all know we have legislation and the right to work flexibly, but we all know there is something not quite right,” said Emma Stewart. “The way families work has completely changed over the last 50 years.“We’re not just looking at talent, but we are looking at how we design jobs to attract talent. The best organisations in this are rethinking job design. They are rethinking flexibility because we know that both men and women want to work differently.”

A switch to flexible hiring?

Delivering on the flexible hiring approach, where companies advertise openly and upfront at the point of hire that a role can be flexible, will support the wider acceptance and uptake of flexible work across the board, she believes.Timewise’s campaign to improve clarity in job advertisements and broaden acceptance of flexible working makes sense when you consider the demographic shifts at work and data.Currently, 54 per cent of UK employees are looking to 9 per cent of roles if they are to work flexibly. This squeeze increases when you factor in the 8.7 million full-time workers looking to change their working patterns.

The business case

“We know that in the last 30-40 years women have contributed three-fold income to households and hugely to growth in GDP,’ said Emma Stewart. “We also know that men want to work differently. Three-quarters of millennial dads say they will take a pay cut to spend more time with their families. The way we work is an issue that affects all kinds of people.”In terms of enabling people to adapt their working hours to meet their career and personal ambition and commitments, and opening up roles to people with more diverse skills and experiences, perhaps it is time to look again at what we think we know about flexible working, and what the benefits could be through a diversity and inclusion lens.

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