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'I don't know how I'm surviving': vast majority of job ads still don't mention flexibility

Nearly three-quarters of UK job vacancies do not mention flexible working despite a huge shift in working styles post-pandemic.

Job vacancies are at their highest level since official records began in 2001 at 1.1 million, according to Office for National Statistics. Yet the proportion of jobs offering flexible working options has grown by just four percentage points, analysis from social enterprise Timewise has found.

Just over one in four UK jobs were advertised with flexible working options (26%) between January to August this year, meaning people who need flexibility effectively cannot apply for three out of four vacancies on the market.

This contrasts with employee priorities as half the UK’s workforce work flexibly in some form, according to previous Timewise analysis, and nine in 10 employees want flexibility in their next job.

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Carole MacLeod used to manage delegates at Davos, but after having a child decided to find work she could manage more easily alongside school pick-up and drop-off. She also needs flexibility to provide support for her partner who is undergoing regular treatment for cancer.

She has since worked in many roles she has enjoyed but argued they have not matched her level of career expertise and skill.

She said: “The market is flooded with jobs. But none that offer a decent wage, good enjoyable professional type work and flexibility too. The kind of jobs that are available tend to be in hospitality, offering long poorly paid shifts that are below my skillset. Recruiters won’t even answer the phone. I think I have applied for maybe 100 jobs at various universities and academic institutions in central London.

“I find it bewildering. Mature mid-life workers in their 50s such as myself have so much to give – we are skilled, experienced, committed and can hit the ground running. We are everything an employer wants – until you start talking about what you need: flexible working. Hours to fit with your partner’s treatment and having a school-age daughter to support." 

Flexibility is defined in the report as any advertised vacancy that is either part-time or offers home-working, flexible start and finish times, flexible shift patterns, remote working, term-time, or job-share.

Danny Harmer, chief people officer at Aviva, said the report was a wakeup call for companies wanting to boost their diversity efforts.

She said: “Offering flexible roles is essential to attract the very best, and most diverse, workforce so it’s good business sense. Flexible roles also support people with life’s changing demands so they can contribute to their families and communities while progressing their careers, which is great for society too.” 

Part-time work was the preferred working pattern for 20% of UK employees but is offered in just 10% of job adverts. 

Home or remote working mentions were low, only appearing in 8% of job adverts. This has also reduced since lockdown restrictions were lifted in April 2021.

Part-time work and low pay were still synonymous in Timewise’s analysis, with 19% of low paid jobs (up to £20k) mentioning part-time possibilities. This is the highest ratio of any salary band.

Home working and flexible working were rarely seen in low-paid vacancies.

Nicole James (not her real name) works in HR and asked her employer for a four day week in March 2020, just before the lockdown hit, to help with childcare responsibilities. 

When this request was denied she resigned but then found all the jobs she applied for all had time constraints.

She therefore took out a student loan to support herself in further education.

She said: “It’s incredibly hard to fit in with everything my daughter’s needs too. I don’t know how I’m surviving if I’m honest. I am extremely aware of the need to find extra finance to support us as a family. I have to find something that is just a couple of hours a week.

“Looking for a part-time a job has been a very disappointing experience. There just doesn’t seem to be anything out there advertised as such. Sometimes it feels extremely worrying. 

Emma Stewart, co-founder of Timewise, said the way employers were advertising jobs ignored the biggest shake-up of work in a generation.

She added: “We know that candidates do not want to raise the flexible working question; we believe they shouldn’t have to. In the post-pandemic, post-Brexit employment market, where vacancies far outstrip candidate supply, thousands of skilled candidates won’t move until they see that a job clearly offers flexible working from day one.”