The pandemic has accelerated the trend of flexible working practices exponentially. Only 5% of employees worked from home in 2019, but this increased to almost 50% in April 2020. In what is often now called the “new normal”, employees increasingly want to (and are able to) work flexibly. Despite this, though, a recent study has found that only one in four jobs are advertised as offering flexible working.

Timewise 2021 annual flexible jobs index

Timewise, a flexible working consultancy, has produced an ‘annual flexible jobs index’. The index analysed over 5 million job adverts from more than 450 UK job boards between January and April 2021 and April and August 2021. Timewise focused its search on job adverts describing flexible working as an employee benefit. A flexible job was any advertised vacancy that was either part-time or offered flexible, agile or homeworking. The key findings were surprising, with only 24% and 26% of job adverts for each respective period offering flexible working.

Why are recruiters failing to offer flexible working?

These statistics appear to be at odds with the perceived transition to the “new normal” of flexible working. There are a number of factors which appear to influence whether flexibility is advertised; mainly, salary and industry. Research by Timewise indicates that nine in 10 employees want the option of flexible working. However, Timewise’s research has found that only 48% of employees are currently working flexibly. It appears that, despite offering flexible working to current employees, employers are hesitant to list new roles on a part-time, agile, homeworking or hybrid basis.

Timewise suggests that employers are missing a trick and that where employers fail to offer flexible working, a significant proportion of candidates will not apply for new vacancies. Timewise further suggests that employers can use offers of flexible working to maximise applications and draw in the best talent. Of course, it is nonetheless recognised that in some industries, such as manufacturing and construction, flexible working may simply not be a practical or possible option for employers to offer.

Many employers are still trialling different working arrangements within their workforce and holding off making formal flexible working changes to employees’ contracts. Many are waiting to see what the new norms are, what competitors are doing and how productivity is impacted before making any big changes to their flexible working approach. There is also still a great deal of uncertainty regarding COVID-19, so it is understandable why some companies may be reluctant to make any bold and/or permanent variations to their working patterns, or to make offers of flexibility in job adverts where they may not be prepared to commit to flexible working arrangements on a long-term basis.

Flexible working consultation deadline

In our article “Making Flexible Working the Default“, we provide an update on the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s consultation on proposals to reform the Flexible Working Regulations 2014. The proposals aim to promote and support flexible working regardless of an employee’s length of service, in an attempt to rebalance the framework currently in place. The consultation closes on 1 December 2021 and a copy of the consultation paper can be found here. We encourage employers and employees to provide their feedback, as their input will be key in determining what shape flexible working will take on in the future.

Comment

Timewise’s research is eye-opening, particularly in circumstances where a significant proportion of the country was forced to work from home for an extended period last year, demonstrating that it is both possible, and in many cases beneficial, to continue to offer more flexibility in employees’ working arrangements. While it is recognised that the same approach will not work across all business and industries, there is great potential benefit to employers and employees in adopting a cultural shift off the back of the last 18 months. The PRM team at Dentons recently held a round-table discussion group among a broad profile of clients, in which a common theme was that one of the first questions most candidates ask is whether the employer offers agile, hybrid and/or home working. There was also recognition that many employers are losing valued members of staff in circumstances where flexible working arrangements cease being maintained, and it does seem that advertising and offering flexibility on an ongoing basis can accordingly create great potential for attracting and retaining top talent.