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Recession and rethinking are facilitating flexible working, says survey

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Flexible working is on the up, due to a mixture of the recession along with an evolving view of working time, a poll of HR directors and CEOs has found. Some 7.91 million people are working less than full-time hours in the UK.

Women Like Us, a recruitment agency for part-time roles, surveyed 274 HR directors and CEOs from its 3,000-strong client base. Surprisingly, respondents didn't pinpoint the recession and its aftermath as 'the most important factor' driving part-time hires (19%); more employers felt 'a longer-term change in the way we are looking at working hours' was the main contributing factor (26%).

Nearly half of all respondents (46%) believed a mixture of the two factors (recession plus long-term change in approach to working hours) was responsible for driving change. A further three-quarters (73%) of those surveyed said they thought '9 to 5' is an outdated concept and no longer supports patterns of work in the UK. Just one in ten employers disagreed with this statement.

Employers' perceptions about which jobs can be worked part-time are widening, with 96% of survey respondents believing 'part-time isn't just for low-skilled roles.

It can also work for jobs that need skilled, experienced employees' and 42% confirmed that senior managers and directors already work part-time in their organisations. By contrast, low skill and manual jobs accounted for just 24% of part-time staff. Resa Galgut, head of recruitment at Women Like Us, said: "Until now, it has been assumed employers are hiring part-time staff as a short-term measure designed to tide them over in difficult economic times. But underneath that immediate 'cost-saving' need, the ground is shifting.

"An evolution in the way that we look at the structure of working hours and what gets the business and the individual the best results, is changing, long term. We are working smarter, recruiting smarter and employing smarter. Employers recognise that those who have the best work-life balance - whatever that is for them - give the best back."

Data from the latest Labour Market Statistical Bulletin (March 2011), from the Office for National Statistics, of all part-time employees in the UK, shows 85% are in part-time because they specifically did not want full-time jobs.