A brave new world: the latest win for workforce flexibility

Last week saw a welcomed step forward for diversity and inclusion in the workplace, with The Flexible Working Taskforce sharing their research and launching a campaign to ‘champion flexibility’ (1).

Still relatively in it’s infancy since being established last March, the Flexible Working Taskforce is a ‘working partnership across various government departments, business groups, trade unions and charities that aims to widen the availability and take-up of flexible working’, including partners such as DWP, CIPD, BEIS, Acas, Age UK, Carers UK and the CBI to name a few (1).

In a bid to step towards an ‘inclusive economy and diverse workforce’, the aim of the campaign is to increase talent pools and address the skills gap by ‘encouraging employers to advertise all jobs as open to flexible working, regardless of seniority or grade’ (1).

The taskforce partners are leading the way on this, all committing to advertise their vacancies with the line: ‘Happy to talk about flexible working’ (1).

The campaign also emphasises the other ‘business benefits of flexible working’ including greater accessibility for older people or carers, improving productivity, engagement and wellbeing as well as reducing sickness absence and increasing retention (1). Moreover, Employee Benefits have cited the positive impact this could have on the gender pay gap by ‘facilitating more opportunities for women to progress into senior roles’ (1).

Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst maintains that ‘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’ (1).

Whilst this is definitely a big step towards a progressive future of work, it would be great to see further support published for employers to assist with the setting up and embedding of sustainable flexible working practices. Being ‘happy to talk about flexible working’ is a good start, but we should be continuing to empower employers to reimagine how a role could operate in new ways, rather than simply having a conversation – this could end up being reduced to a futile tick box exercise before deciding that flexible working wouldn’t work (just because they can’t visualise how it would!).

I agree with the comment from Peter Cheese that ‘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 [employees]’ (1). I would also go further to suggest that if employers don’t challenge ‘outdated attitudes to flexible working’ (1) they are at risk of ceasing to exist in the future – their narrow talent pools having been expended and no resource available to fill significant skills gaps.

I hope that guidance informed by the taskforce’s research, on how to successfully embed and sustain flexible working initiatives is published in the future and strongly urge employers to support the campaign – or at least to consider, in partnership with their payroll agents, how flexible working could work for them in the future.