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Flexible work gives working parents confidence to progress

Working parents’ confidence in their ability to progress has grown thanks to the spread of flexible work, according to new research.

More than two thirds (67%) of working parents in the UK said they now believe flexible work could help them progress at work, a leap of 11 points from 2022’s figure of 56%, according to statistics from back-up care and nursery provider Bright Horizons.

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The jump in confidence has been particularly pronounced among women.

In 2021, just over half (56%) of women said they could work flexibly and be promoted yet in 2023, two thirds (67%) think the two can be achieved together.

Jennifer Liston-Smith, head of thought leadership at Bright Horizons, said the data was a welcome sign that mothers no longer felt as if they had to put their careers on hold while their children were young.

She told HR magazine: “Taken as a whole, the encouraging message is that it is women who are becoming more assured that flexibility will not necessarily derail their careers.”

Liston-Smith pointed out that the number of working parents that said they were happy not to progress had fallen from 17% to 9%, indicating that an appetite for career progression alongside a family life was firmly back.

Anna Whitehouse, author and founder of flexible working campaign organisation Flex Appeal, told HR magazine that flexible working’s utility in the workplace has been repeatedly proven.

She said: “Data has shown time and time again that it increases productivity and reduces absence at work. It also shifts the goalposts for people who need flexible working to be able to work at all, bringing greater diversity and inclusion into the workplace. 

“It's impossible for working parents to work office hours and manage childcare drop off and pick up times; something or someone often has to give – and this is echoed in this research.”

While the concept of flexible working is nothing new, said Shakil Butt, founder of HR consultancy HR Hero for Hire, it has become increasingly difficult for employers to deny employees’ requests to work flexibly.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “Pre-pandemic it was relatively easy for employers to deny requests arguing it was not in the business interests or was not practical to implement because typically it went against the norm. 

“Post-pandemic mindsets of both the employee and employer have forever changed with many roles having already being transformed into flexible working roles.

“With attraction and retention of talent being a priority for the people profession, flexible working can really open the labour market to address this pressing need with job seekers being attracted to employers who can offer flexible working. 

“It is not surprising to see working parents feeling more confident about having a career, without having to sacrifice their commitments to family members.”

Liston-Smith agreed: “In a tight labour market, it could be harder to stand out unless employers are going the extra mile with practical support for family life such as help with care provision, family networks, coaching and similar support. 

“It will also be important to continue to grow the trust and autonomy that employees seek in their working arrangements, as flexible working rules also become more progressive.”