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Flexible work stigma still an obstacle in UK

Data released by Business in the Community (BITC), has revealed that even after two years of remote working, employees are still fearful of asking about flexible working when applying for a job.

The research, which questioned more than 2,500 working adults, found 50% of respondents said they would not feel comfortable asking to work flexibly when applying for a job, while 43% said there is still stigma about asking for flexible options.

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Speaking to HR magazine Charlotte Woodworth, gender equality campaign director at BITC said: “This research shows that despite all the noise about flexible working, and the fact that the flexibility genie is out of the bottle, the reality on the ground is much different.

“There is clear hesitancy from people around raising this topic.”

She added: “Employers must think again about how they showcase their approach to flexible working. They need to be much more proactive rather than waiting for potential employees to raise it."

According to Woodworth, employers should mention flexible working upfront in job ads; detail what their flexible working is on their website; as well as profile staff who are already working in this way.

She added: “The question I always hear from people, is when should they raise working flexibly – at the interview stage, or the job offer stage? The fact is, many are just still to wary of raising it.”

As well as revealing stigma about raising flexible working, the research also found that it was overwhelmingly women that sacrifice their careers in order to juggle their caregiving responsibilities.

The data revealed a staggering 58% of women say their caring responsibilities have prevented them from applying for a new job.

Meanwhile almost one in five (19%) said they have actually had to quit their job because it was too difficult for them to balance work and care.

Rae Fletcher, principle consultant at innovation consultancy Wilson Fletcher told HR magazine: “We already know from The Global Institute for Women’s Leadership that women’s progression in the workplace continues to be held back by tensions between current ways of organising work and caring responsibilities.” 

She added: “Firms need to create more of an ‘optimal’ working model – not a hybrid or remote one, but an optimal one – where working from home doesn't make people a pariah.”

At Wilson Fletcher – where its leadership team is 2:1 women to men – this means operating a four-day week, with core hours 10am-4pm. 

She says: “We tried a hybrid model for a few months, where we’d all come into the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but it didn’t work for us. We found it hard to plan our work around these days. It didn’t strike an optimal balance for a team at differing life stages.” 

BITC also found continuing evidence of a general ‘care divide’ in the UK, with women comprising 85% of all lone carers for children, and 54% of all lone carers for working age adults. 

The research found 46% of workers have childcare responsibilities that ‘come up’ during the working day, but it is 52% of women, compared to 42% of men, who say their day job has been interrupted because of this.

Additionally, more than one in three women (37%) said other caring responsibilities had come up, compared to 31% of men.