Government-backed flexible working campaign launched

A new campaign has been launched today to encourage employers to make flexible working the norm

The 'Flexible Working Task Force' – a partnership across government departments, business groups, trade unions and charities – has launched a campaign to increase flexible working uptake.

Members of the taskforce aim to encourage employers to advertise jobs as flexible by using the strapline 'Happy to Talk Flexible Working' in job advertisements, regardless of level or pay grade. Members have also committed to advertising their own jobs as flexible.

The taskforce, co-chaired by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the CIPD, was established in March 2018. Other member organisations include: the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), the TUC, Age UK, Carers UK, Timewise Foundation, Working Families, ACAS, the Department for Work and Pensions, and HM Treasury.

The campaign coincides with the publication of a new CIPD report, Megatrends: Flexible Working, which shows that the number of employees using formal flexible working arrangements – such as part-time working, term-time working, compressed hours and job-sharing – has flatlined since 2010. These findings come despite the right to request flexible working having been extended to all employees back in 2014.

The report outlines evidence of an increase in more informal flexible working, such as more people working from home on an ad-hoc basis, but states that there is an opportunity to do more. The potential benefits of flexible working are being missed because of unsupportive manager attitudes, limited options, and the negative assumptions of some employees about flexible working, it states.

Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD and co-chair of the Flexible Working Task Force, said that employers must look at the factors stopping them from introducing flexible working patterns. “Providing more flexible opportunities for how, when and where people work should be part of every organisation’s strategy to attract and retain the talent and skills they need. Employers need to consider and address the barriers holding them back from adopting flexible working practices more widely – be it entrenched organisational cultures or making sure line managers are trained to support and manage flexible workers,” he said.

Cheese added that by advertising jobs as flexible employers will hopefully encourage others to follow suit: “By encouraging many more jobs to be advertised as flexible as the default option, the taskforce is challenging outdated attitudes to flexible working that still prevail in some organisations and [is] laying down a marker for other employers to follow.”

As part of its efforts to increase uptake, the taskforce is highlighting the business benefits of flexible working, which include addressing skill and labour shortages by making work more accessible to older people and those with caring responsibilities; improving productivity by increasing employee motivation; boosting job satisfaction, engagement and wellbeing, while also helping to reduce sickness absence; helping organisations to retain staff, particularly those with caring responsibilities; and creating more diverse workforces, which reduces the gender pay gap by giving more opportunities for women to progress into senior roles. The taskforce has also published guidance for employers on how to champion flexible working in their organisations.

Kelly Tolhurst, BEIS parliamentary under-secretary, said that providing flexible work will help to open up new talent pools. “Working flexibly helps people to balance their work and home lives and is vital in creating an inclusive economy and diverse workforce. It also gives employers access to a wider pool of talent and enables better matching of applicants and jobs,” she said.

Tolhurst added that the government is considering obliging employers to consider whether a job they're advertising can be done flexibly. “The government is committed to enhancing the quality of work, which is why we have recently set out major workplace reforms to give millions of workers, including flexible workers, new rights and protections – the biggest upgrade in workers’ rights in a generation. To build on this upgrade we will also be considering a duty for employers to consider whether a job can be done flexibly, and to make that clear when advertising a vacancy,” she said.

“We want to ensure the UK continues to lead the world in addressing the challenges of the changing world of work, and the Flexible Working Task Force plays a valuable role in this endeavour; with a great forum through which we can make flexible working a reality for all employees.”