Managers believe flexible working can boost productivity

Managers are now more positive about flexible working
Managers are now more positive about flexible working

Managers are more positive about flexible working than since the outset of the pandemic, and even think it can boost productivity

As businesses adapt to new workplace norms and working practices, managers’ experiences during COVID-19 have made them more likely to support a move to flexible working in the future, including part-time working and job sharing, as a way to increase productivity - a new report reveals.

The latest annual report from researchers at the University of Birmingham Business School and the University of York into flexible working is based on data collected in summer 2022 from 597 managers across the UK and builds on previous reports exploring changes to flexible working and working norms since the pandemic.

The report focuses on issues such as managers’ attitudes towards and intentions regarding flexible working since the pandemic, with key findings including:

  • 8% of managers agree working from home improves employee concentration; with a further 59.5% agreeing it increases productivity; and a further 62.8% agreeing it increases motivation
  • 7% agreed that compressed hours increase productivity; 44.1% that part-time working increases productivity; while 33.2% thought the same about job share
  • Pre-pandemic (pre-2020) 43.3% of managers believed long hours were needed for employees to advance in the organisation. During the lockdowns, this decreased to 38.7% (2020) and 35.2% (2021). Now, 41.9% believe that in order to advance in the organisation employees need to work long hours
  • Most staff are using flexible working policies informally, particularly for working from home (45.1% of managers reported the majority of employees are working this way) and flexitime (36.5%), but also for part-time working, compressed hours and job shares
  • Most managers believe job advertisements should include the availability of flexible working (93.5%) making them more attractive to potential applicants (90.5%)

View the full report

Over the past five years the Equal Parenting Project research team, led by Dr Holly Birkett at Birmingham Business School and Dr Sarah Forbes at the University of York, has conducted extensive research on flexible working usage which has significantly informed employer practice and policy decisions promoting responsible and supportive workplaces for all.

This report follows the recent announcement by the Government of plans to give millions of employees the day one right to request flexible working, making it the default.

But the report goes further, with a series of recommendations for businesses and policymakers to help entrench some of the flexible working wins. These include encouraging organisations to review flexible working policies to ensure they are not gendered, as part of the University’s work on equal parenting, and calling on policymakers to review employment law to ensure it is fit for purpose post-COVID-19.

Managers have become much more positive about flexible working as a result of COVID-19, but they are still more likely to support flexitime and homeworking than other types of flexible working, such as part-time and job shares, which are more likely to be used by women.

Dr Holly Birkett - University of Birmingham Business School

Over the past five years the Equal Parenting Project research team, led by Dr Holly Birkett at Birmingham Business School and Dr Sarah Forbes at the University of York, has conducted extensive research on flexible working usage which has significantly informed employer practice and policy decisions promoting responsible and supportive workplaces for all.

This report follows the recent announcement by the Government of plans to give millions of employees the day one right to request flexible working, making it the default.

But the report goes further, with a series of recommendations for businesses and policymakers to help entrench some of the flexible working wins. These include encouraging organisations to review flexible working policies to ensure they are not gendered, as part of the University’s work on equal parenting, and calling on policymakers to review employment law to ensure it is fit for purpose post-COVID-19.

The report warns that whilst progress has been made to reduce the stigma of flexible working in tackling the pre-pandemic culture of presenteeism and long hours, these new norms need to be formalised and embedded in workplaces.

Dr Holly Birkett from the University of Birmingham Business School and Dr Sarah Forbes from the University of York, co-authors of the report, said:

’Managers have become much more positive about flexible working as a result of COVID-19, but they are still more likely to support flexitime and homeworking than other types of flexible working, such as part-time and job shares, which are more likely to be used by women.’

’Flexible working is here to stay but is still much more accessible for professionals and office workers.’

’While presenteeism seems to be reducing since COVID-19 there are signs we are moving back towards a traditional long hours working culture. It is a positive step that the government is moving toward making the right to request flexible working a day-one right but it is also imperative that as a society we ensure that flexible working is more freely accessible, including job shares and part-time working and across more industries. We also need to ensure that flexible working is properly resourced and managed within organisations, with appropriate inclusive communications and performance management systems in order to see the full benefits of this evolution in working practice.’

Dame Maria Miller MP, former Minister for Women and Equalities and former Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, said:

’We know from many studies and surveys that work means something different for women and men. Women do 60% more unpaid work than men, for example, in childcare and housekeeping, and 38% of women work part-time compared to 13% of men. This means women stand to benefit greatly from flexible working - the ability not only to work from home when needed, but also to consider compressed hours, better shift patterns and job sharing - so that women can make the best decisions to balance their own lives. The Government’s recent announcement making requests for flexible working a day-one right is a great next step for women to craft working lives that fit them, and the University of Birmingham’s report shows there are still other options we could look at in the future. If work is to become an equal playing field for both men and women, we need to give women all the options to make that happen.’

Angela Rayner MP, the Shadow Secretary for the Future of Work and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, said:

"The consensus is in, and flexible working is here to stay. This will benefit us all, from the working mother locked out of the labour market, to the employer looking to boost productivity.

"Labour’s New Deal for Working People will ensure all workers have the opportunity to benefit from not just flexible working but also part-time, compressed, and term-time hours as a default from day one, with employers required to accommodate this as far as it is reasonable."

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