COMMONS

Increasing the number of jobs advertised as available to work flexibly

Can you give us any evidence to present to the Secretary of State to respond to the Government's rejection of our recommendation on making all jobs available for flexible working?

Our recommendation

We recommended that "All jobs should be available to work flexibly unless an employer can demonstrate an immediate and continuing business case against doing so."

The latest data (PDF 620KB) from 2016 shows that just 8.7% of jobs paying a full-time equivalent of £20,000 are advertised as available to work flexibly or part-time. Our report demonstrated that this creates a significant bottleneck to women's employment, promotion and progression opportunities. 

Government response

In its response to our recommendation, the Government says "The current statutory scheme strikes a balance between giving employees the flexibility to combine work with other responsibilities and allowing employers to plan effectively. Employers can also advertise jobs on flexible terms or offer flexible working arrangements to their employees outside the statutory scheme if they wish – and many employers already do so."

  • Please read the full Government response to this recommendation before contributing your comments.
  • We're looking for strong evidence-based arguments responding to the Government's case. These may include references to academic research, case studies, and examples of what has worked in other countries. Please include references as hyperlinks where possible.

The forum is now closed. The deadline for comments was midday on 12 April 2017.

Image: iStockphoto

12 Responses to Jobs advertised as available to work flexibly

Working Families says:
April 26, 2017 at 11:39 AM
The Government has suggested that employers are best placed to decide, and that everyone has the right to request flexible working. This misses the crucial point about culture change and job design. Flexibility is a tool to improve balance and to create sensibly designed jobs that can be done productively in the hours allocated to them. It is not an end in itself.

Key findings from our benchmark survey of top employers for working families include:
• Nine out of ten organisations have senior leaders championing flexibility but only four out of ten view flexibility as default or normal. Even in these highly engaged and forward-thinking organisations, flexibility is often individualised, exceptional and a concession to employees rather than a way of achieving business aims
• A third of organisations require managers to justify hiring a full time post, promoting an approach that considers job design, but we also found that flexibility was ‘on the table’ far more often than advertised – employers are missing a trick and thousands of people who need flexible work to fit around childcare commitments are locked into jobs below their skill level, or out of the labour market altogether.

https://www.workingfamilies.org.uk/publications/the-top-employers-for-working-families-benchmark-report/

The Modern Families Index 2017 identifies a ‘flexibility gap’ between the right to request and cultural reality in many workplaces:
• Almost half of parents are not comfortable raising the issue of workload and hours with their employer
• Twice as many fathers as mothers believe flexible workers are viewed as less committed and that working flexibly will have a negative impact on their career
• 37% of parents who don’t have access to flexibility feel resentful towards their employer about their work life balance and so do 37% of parents who work flexibly – reinforcing the importance of sensible job design to making flexibility work
• A workplace culture that doesn’t match up to the right to request means we’re in danger of creating a ‘fatherhood penalty’ alongside the ‘motherhood penalty’

https://www.workingfamilies.org.uk/publications/2017-modern-families-index-full-report/

We are also concerned about the legal framework for the right to request. Currently, the best way for mothers to challenge a refusal of a request for flexible working is by arguing indirect sex discrimination. This obviously does not work when it is the father who asks for flexible working. We are calling for employment tribunals to be able to look at business reasons for refusing flexible working requests, and for the cap on compensation to be reviewed, because in our experience the present low level is a deterrent to the employee and encourages intransigence on the part of the employer.

The civil service advertises flexibly and could lead by example. Could the civil service share what they have done on job design alongside flexibility? And quantify what has the impact been on recruitment and retention? The civil service won our innovation award last year and were finalists for best for all stages of motherhood award - https://www.workingfamilies.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Top-Employers-for-Working-Families-Special-Awards-2016.pdf ) Could the government include flexible job design as part of their requirements when contracting with third parties?

We’re keen to see a voluntary ‘concordat’ approach between government and employers to encourage more employers to put genuine flexibility in place. The Scottish Business Pledge could provide some inspiration here https://scottishbusinesspledge.scot/ - above all the government could be playing an active part in creating culture change.
Women's Equality Party says:
April 26, 2017 at 10:56 AM
WE have pledged to worked with the business community to make flexible working the default. Managed properly, flexible working where it is possible, is not a cost but a benefit to all involved, regardless of gender. When opening hours are flexible, doing business with other time zones is easier; home working can save money by reducing the need for formal office space; and flexibility can enable greater retention of talented workers who otherwise would retire, move jobs, or take on full-time to caring responsibilities at home.

Job adverts - starting with all those on the government's own 'Universal Jobmatch' platform and advertisements posted by companies with 250 or more employees - should state what forms of flexible working the post is suitable for by means of a checklist. Instead of opting-in to job sharing, home working or flexible hours, companies would have to find a business reason for opting out.

WE would require Local Enterprise Partnerships to support small businesses in their area with the initial costs of investing in remote working.

Employees who submit a request for flexible working need to know it has been taken seriously. So WE would permit them to submit a claim for unreasonable refusal of a request and for unreasonable refusal to offer a trial period - with compensation where this is proven to have taken place.

It is vital that those who work part-time or wish to return to work after having a baby are able to do so without harming their career or salary expectation. WE would promote internship/returners programmes for all ages, providing subsidies to high quality schemes based on the funding model for apprenticeships.
Young Women's Trust says:
April 26, 2017 at 10:40 AM
2.1. The ability to work flexibly is of key importance to the majority of young women we work with. This is a particularly true of young mothers. In polling of 319 mothers aged 16-24 for our recent report What Matters to Young Women the majority of young mothers said that it was important for more jobs to be advertised with flexible hours (83%) or part-time hours (81%).

2.2. We held additional focus groups in preparation for this evidence in which we asked a group of young women about their views on flexible working. For many, flexible working offered the only opportunity to combine work and caring responsibilities. In these instances, flexible working was more than simply adjusting to part-time hours.

“I have not had to pick between being a mother or working. I am a full time employee and a full time mum”
Shanae

“Flexible working has been helpful for me – I have free rein on what days I work and how long for which enables me to manage my disability. I can also swap says around to take time off rather than use annual leave”

Willow

“Flexible work has done wonders for my mental health and confidence. I feel much more confident that I can do good work and not sacrifice my well-being”

Glenys

However, even when flexible working options were available women reported negative impacts on taking up such opportunities. This is because where flexible working is not fully embedded into the culture of an organisation those employers working flexibly are viewed as inherently less valuable. Ensuring a greater take up of flexible working by a range of employers would help to address this and support the drive for equality.


“Much more difficult to arrange training – I am significantly behind others who started at the same time
Nia

“I have been turned down for promotions because I work part time “

Laura


Furthermore, Young Women’s Trust maintains that the current system of not allowing requests for flexible working before 26 weeks actually creates more uncertainty for employers. A right to request from day one would allow businesses to plan ahead. For this reason we support the Committee’s view that all jobs should be available to work flexibly unless an employer can demonstrate an immediate and continuing business case against doing so. By default, YWT would like employers to offer all employment opportunities on a flexible, part-time or job share basis at the point of advertisement.

The public sector has a golden opportunity to lead the way and become the standard bearer in flexible working. The Government should take steps to ensure that all jobs in public sector bodies are offered on a flexible basis.

Young Women’s Trust is also concerned that part-time and flexible working is truly extended to employees at all levels. Our recent reports on apprenticeships have shown that very few apprenticeships are offered on a part-time basis. This deters many young women from undertaking apprenticeships which could offer significant benefits in terms of developing skills and future careers.

Crucially many employers are unaware that they are able employ an apprentice on a part-time basis. A significant number of employers we have involved in our work continue to believe that apprentices must work a minimum of 30 hours per week. Many have indicated that they would like to employ part-time apprentices but feel “unable to do so due to current regulations.” This mismatch between employers’ understanding and the regulations is particularly concerning. Young Women’s Trust recommends that the Government issues renewed guidance on the regulations about part-time apprenticeships and actively encourages employers to make such opportunities available.
Scottish Womens Convention says:
April 12, 2017 at 10:08 AM
More needs to be done by the Government to encourage employers within the private, public and voluntary sectors to promote flexible working. The positive aspects of flexible working, such as the improved productivity and morale that comes with uptake of more adaptable working practices, need to be clearly demonstrated.

At present, the majority of flexible working is part time and attracts lower wages and limited opportunities for training and development. Flexible working should, therefore, be encouraged to ensure that women who have the capacity to work full time do not have to sacrifice training, career development or the opportunity to increase wages. Flexible working policies should be developed which dispel current myths around the “long hours” culture and assumptions regarding loyalty and commitment.

“It stands to reason that women who feel valued and supported within the workplace will work harder, yield better results and be more committed.”

An extremely low number of jobs are currently advertised under what are classed as flexible terms. The majority of these are low paid and on a part-time basis in what are stereotypically “female” sectors such as retail and hospitality. This, in turn, leads to many women having to accept this type of employment as it is the only option available to them, when in fact they are often vastly overqualified to undertake these roles.

The lack of flexibility shown by employers can have a detrimental impact on women’s future potential. This can be damaging for prospective earnings, as well as having the knock on impact of diminishing skills and making career progression even more difficult. As a result, many choose not to return to their previous job, but instead seek part-time employment which fits around their family and other responsibilities.

Women who work or who have worked in senior roles find themselves extremely disadvantaged when they choose to have a family. Those returning from maternity leave can struggle to return to the role they held before they had their baby.

“I was made redundant whilst on maternity leave. I was told that due to business needs, when I returned to work I would have to travel to an office 40 miles from my home and be there for 6.30am. When I said I couldn’t do this, I was offered reduced hours. This was also unsuitable, so I was made redundant.”

Women have expressed concern at the attitude of some employers, often in the private sector, that women who have had children are not as committed or ambitious as others.

“I showed an interest in working part-time when I went back after having my baby. My male boss was surprised as prior to becoming a mother I was interested in a promotion. He didn’t see how this would work if I wasn’t working all the hours in the day.”

The lack of flexibility on the part of some employers is also a significant contributing factor.

“I was previously a sales manager. When I had my children I wanted to be able to keep my job but adapt my working hours so I could be at home more. This simply wasn’t an option for my employer. I now do part-time work in the evenings and at weekends, completely unrelated to the role I had in my career, because it fits better round my family responsibilities.”

Employers are entitled to ask for flexible working arrangements; however employers have the right to refuse. There is a perceived lack of knowledge among many around the right to make such a request. Women feel that they have to have a level of confidence and strength to be able to make this type of request.

“It’s not necessarily the first thing on someone’s mind when they come back to work after having children. Given the current climate, where jobs are difficult to come by, women can just be grateful to still be employed. Those who do know their rights often don’t want to be seen as a ‘burden’ or a ‘troublemaker’ by asking to work flexibly.”

More should be done by the government to encourage businesses to advertise flexible working for both new and current employees. The lack of leadership by the Government to encourage more employers to do this fails to show a willingness to adopt a cohesive strategic framework for genuine, workable flexibility. There is no information as to how they will encourage employers to adopt this approach, which would not only benefit the workers but businesses themselves and, in turn, the economy overall.

Women need work to be flexible, which is often an argument put forward for the use of zero hours contracts. The reality, however, is that they are not flexible and instead create uncertainty and, in many cases, poverty.

“Where I work, they’re trying to get people who are on full-time contracts to move to more ‘flexible’ contracts, saying they’ll be good for working parents. They’re really just zero hours contracts by another name.”

Allyson Zimmermann says:
April 11, 2017 at 04:30 PM
All jobs should be available to work flexibly unless an employer can demonstrate an immediate and continuing business case against doing so.

The following comes from Catalyst’s Benefits of Flexible Work-Life Arrangements Quick Take - http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/benefits-flexible-work-life-arrangements:
· Flexible work options attract and retain top talent
· Flexible work is a business strategy, not an accommodation
· More women than men use flexible work options in the UK
· Working flexible hours is the most common form of flexibility
Additional resources:

The Great Debate: Flexibility Vs. Face Time – Busting the myths behind flexible work arrangements http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/great-debate-flexibility-vs-face-time-busting-myths-behind-flexible-work-arrangements
Flex Works Tool http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/flex-works
Chwarae Teg says:
April 11, 2017 at 01:52 PM
Chwarae Teg is a Welsh organisation working to build a Wales where women achieve and prosper.

We believe it’s very important that more is done to highlight the fact that flexible or modern ways of working can bring many benefits to organisations, and that advertising jobs as flexible by default would help this.

Recent research by Chwarae Teg (https://www.cteg.org.uk/research/perceptions-modern-working-practices/) demonstrates that there is an appetite among businesses in Wales to start implementing more modern ways of working such as flexible working. They recognise that this brings many benefits to the organisation including, staff satisfaction, retention and productivity. Some businesses still have concerns about how these practices work in reality, therefore there is a role for government to play in actively promoting flexible working and sharing best practice. Advertising jobs as flexible by default would contribute to this.

Chwarae Teg operates its own flexible, results based working system, called ‘Achieve’. All employees, carers and non-carers, work on an outcomes based arrangement, allowing them the flexibility and autonomy to manage their own time according to business needs. This helps create equality between carers and non-carers and removes stigma and negative attitudes towards flexible working by making it a benefit enjoyed by everyone. ‘Achieve’ is currently being trialled by several organisations in Wales, including other charities and housing associations.

There’s also evidence that the notion of flexible working is still clearly gendered in workplaces in the UK. Fathers are more likely than mothers to have requests for flexible working turned down (Fawcett Society, 2016) . Offering employment as flexible by default, unless there’s a clear business case why not to, could help remove the stigma attached with requesting flexible working for men and women. This could also help address the current impact that caring has on employment prospects.
Mary-Ann Stephenson says:
April 11, 2017 at 11:54 AM
The lack of opportunities for flexible working means that many women returning to work after a career break work in jobs that are lower skilled, and lower paid, than their previous roles.

Women are more likely to work part time than men (42% of women in work and 11% of men work part time), and are over-qualified for the roles they undertake compared to their male counterparts. http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/The-Changing-Labour-Market-2.pdf

2017 research by PwC shows that of the 427,000 women in the UK on a career break, around 249,000 are likely to enter lower-skilled roles when they return to work, and a further 29,000 women are forced to work fewer hours than they want as a result of a lack of flexible working opportunities. The PwC report suggests that the introduction of flexible work schemes across UK businesses will help address the career break penalty women face when taking time off work after pregnancy, leading to a growth in female earnings by £1.1 billion annually, equivalent to £4,000 per woman.
http://www.pwc.co.uk/services/economics-policy/insights/women-returners.html

Lack of opportunities for flexible working may be one of the factors driving the increase in the number of women who are self-employed. Self-employed women are the majority of the newly self-employed. Since the 2008 downturn 58% of the newly self-employed have been female. In 2014, 70% of those becoming self-employed were women. The upward trend in the number of self-employed women goes alongside a sharp downward trend in their incomes, access to training and social protection. For a growing proportion of women, self-employment does not appear to be a “choice” but a necessity driven by factors such as public sector job losses, the uprating of the female retirement age, or a need to accommodate caring responsibilities.
http://wbg.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Here_to_stay_selfemployment_Briefing_Mar16-1.pdf
Jasmine Kelland says:
April 07, 2017 at 11:43 AM
My research leads me to believe that a review of the response to this recommendation is a critical if greater equality in workplace attitudes towards parents with regard flexibility is to be achieved.
Recent research found that 70% of fathers wanted to work more flexibly to accommodate family life (Modern Families Index Report, 2017), however, this appears to be out of sync with workplace attitudes which consistently associate flexibility with women (Tracy and Rivera, 2010, Smith and Stokoe, 2005, Crompton, 2002). Senior managers have reported that they assume flexibility applies only to women and that fathers neither access nor desire it (Burnett et al, 2012) and fathers have been found be to more likely than mothers to have any request for flexible working rejected by their employer (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, 2012, 2014).
My research comprised twenty interviews with managers and working parents and found that both groups perceived that fathers received less flexibility in the workplace and that any flexibility was considered to be ‘subject to negotiation’ to a greater extent than it for mothers, making all jobs flexible at the start could overcome this barrier and avoid this ‘fatherhood forfeit’.

Fathers are perceived to receive less flexibility

Sarah, a ward manager, explained: “we probably are more flexible with (mothers) I imagine than we would be with men.” This is consistent with earlier research by Lewis (1997) who found mothers to be in receipt of more informal flexibility in terms of favours rather than entitlements, placing them in a position of advantage over fathers. It has been suggested that an expectation that a workplace will not be supportive precludes fathers from taking advantage of flexibility (Bekkengen,2002). Making all jobs flexible from the outset could help minimise these barriers and reduce such disparities.
Flexibility is ‘Subject to Negotiation’ for fathers to a higher degree than it is for mothers

Managers widely reported that fathers embarked on negotiation with their line managers when they needed flexibility, whilst mothers in the workplace do not engage in such negotiation. Jane, a line manager in a manufacturing organisation, stated that she believes fathers are; “almost waiting to be given permission…..I get the feeling that (for mothers) it’s not a negotiation; it’s just “we have to go”. The notion of flexibility being ‘Subject to Negotiation’ for fathers would be minimised by jobs being advertised as flexible as default.

In the light of the above I would urge the government to re-consider the committee’s recommendations.
Lee Taylor says:
April 04, 2017 at 07:16 PM
The Government already forces Employers to take on huge responsibilities in relation to maternity, paternity and other employment issues, together with demanding a huge amount of administration to be done and taxes.

Furthermore, it demands SME owners understand the costs and requirements of their business, and fines and even imprisons when they fall short.

If they understand these requirements, they and they alone are qualified to decide what hours and dates they require from an employee.

Why should they justify themselves to anyone outside?
Jackie Longworth says:
March 30, 2017 at 04:14 PM
What happens in practice
It would be useful if the Minister could explain how the Government is gathering data on the effectiveness of its policy in improving the access of women to decent jobs.

The Right of those in employment to Request changes to their work pattern
I have been unable to find any source of quantitative data on how many requests are made, how many are granted, how many refusals are appealed and how many appeals are successful.
On the other hand, FPSW has received significant qualitative and anecdotal information that requests to work flexibly are very frequently refused. In some cases this request is made informally to a line manager who refuses to consider it even though the organisation has declared a policy of supporting it. Many women give up at this point and feel forced to change their job / employer to enable them to accommodate their desire to care for members of their family, be that children or adults. When asked why they didn’t invoke their ‘right to request’ some say they didn’t know about it; others indicate that they don’t see how it could be made to work if their line manager is not willing, so they don’t see the point of making a formal request.

Case study
A woman tells of her two daughters, both of whom have small children. When they were on maternity leave, each requested of her boss that she could work part time when returning to work. Both were refused in the first instance. Daughter one had a long commute to work and faced having to give up her professional job if she couldn’t reduce her hours. She persisted and reached a resolution with her employer that she would return to work full time for two months and then could move to part-time working. Daughter two felt forced to apply for voluntary redundancy under the down-sizing programme her employer had embarked on.

The grounds for refusing flexible working requests are wide ranging and non-specific and are seen by many as an easy get-out for employers unwilling to be accommodating. It has been said by some employers that it would be easier if only one or two staff requested it but it “would be impossible if the majority asked for it”. We argue differently. If flexible working to meet the employees’ requirements were the norm then employers would structure work organisation to accommodate it. In the first instance this may be culturally difficult for some employers used to the old-fashioned concept of nine-to-five and everyone present together; it is unlikely to happen on a voluntary basis. Which is why we have consistently argued that the ‘right to request’ should become a ‘right to have’, so that employers are forced to rethink their work organisation.

The government’s reply to recommendation 4 is helpful as there is currently a widespread belief amongst both employees and employers that once flexible working has been agreed it cannot be reversed at a later date as family circumstances change.

Position of those seeking new employment with non-standard working pattern
Many women (and some men) are forced to leave an otherwise decent job because of inflexible working patterns and are therefore seeking flexible working with a new employer. Others are seeking to return to work after a career break, still needing a non-standard working pattern. Most require the actual pattern agreed to have certainty to enable them to meet their commitments outside employment. We have both quantitative and qualitative evidence that a very large proportion are finding no decent jobs which offer this flexibility on recruitment. They are forced to downgrade into lower paid work which underutilises their skills and qualifications (see reference).

If work were re-structured to accommodate flexible working requests from existing employees there is no reason why all jobs could not then be advertised as available for flexible working to new recruits and indeed those being promoted internally.

It is our view that the government’s response to Recommendation 1(c) is wholly complacent and inadequate. If they are serious about reducing the gender pay gap, particularly for part time women then employee requested flexible working has to become the norm in modern employment practice, along with publicly provided universally available childcare and social care.

For the full briefing see: http://www.fairplaysouthwest.org.uk/images/Flexible_Working_WEC
_Recommendation_and_Government_Response.docx