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Pandemic changed managers' mind on part-time workers

Managers are more open to the benefits of part-time workers after trialling bringing furloughed workers back part-time during the pandemic.

Researchers from Cranfield University found over 40% of those who had used the flexible furlough scheme said that it made their line managers more open to part-time working and were now better at managing this more effectively. 

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Part-time work was hailed by researchers as an important way for employers to attract to work the fifth (22%) of English, Scottish and Welsh people who are classed as economically inactive. They include the retired, those with caring responsibilities and people with disabilities.

The newfound expertise in managing part-time teams presents a real opportunity for employers, said professor Clare Kelliher, lead author of the study.

She told HR magazine: “Historically, we’ve known that there’s unmet demand for part-time working in the UK, in spite of it being quite prevalent. And some of that has been related to managers thinking it is difficult to manage, or costly.”

At employers that had little experience of part-time work before furlough, Kelliher said the study found the scheme made managers and people teams consider job design and core capabilities more than before, learning transferable skills in the process.

She added: “We found that managers had to think a lot more carefully about what level of workload was appropriate to somebody who might be working 60% of full time during the use of the furlough scheme. 

“Really looking at things like demand patterns, how work actually occurred, how long things take and tasks to perform, meant that they started to think much more about how work was generated, and what kind of workflow was appropriate to matching to a given amount of hours.”

Claire Williams, chief people officer at HR software provider Ciphr, said HR professionals have done a great job at helping businesses switch to flexible work.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Firstly, HR professionals have done a fantastic job in educating leadership teams on the value flexible working can bring to their organisations, as well as helping to ensure that they understand the legal, financial, and reputational risks in not genuinely considering how they can be a more flexible employer. 

“Secondly, the pandemic forced employers that may have, historically, been more resistant to home working to introduce more flexible working practices, and realise the value it creates. 

“And finally, we are slowly feeling the effects of changing attitudes towards women in leadership roles, with organisations championing and focusing on promoting and employing female senior management. This is, in turn, helping drive more flexible working practices from the top down.”

This year, Zurich's policy to advertise all roles with flexible options, including part-time, proved to massively increase the number of female hires especially at a senior level.

Anna Whitehouse, author and founder of flexible working campaign Flex Appeal, said the research confirmed the value of flexible working.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “When thrown into the thick of it in the pandemic, they had to make it work – and it's very positive to see that some managers have carried this on now that the pandemic is over, but there's more to be done. 

“The best asset in any organisation is its people - and companies that remember that will continue to reap the benefits.”

The full report is available to read here.