58% fear the drive to agile working has pushed part-time jobs out of the picture

Work Life Balance


Has part-time working been forgotten in the move towards agile working?

A poll by Workingmums.co.uk suggests a majority feel that it has. Some 58% said they felt part-time work was being forgotten by employers intent on moving to more agile ways of working. Just 7% said it had not, with 35% stating they didn’t know.

Over the last few years agile working which means the ability to work anywhere and any time has come to the fore as a way of creating greater flexibility for employees, enabling them to do full time jobs.

The number of working mums working full-time hours has increased at the same time.

Agile working is driven by technological progress, meaning it is easier to work remotely, at least for part of the week. It has also brought about a redesign of workplaces, with more hot desking or local hubs to reduce commuting as well as office overheads.

Advocates say it enables workers to have the flexibility they need while continuing to progress up the career ladder, making it possible for women in particular – who still tend to be the main carers – to get into senior management roles. Agile workers tend to work full time or at least four days a week.

However, there remains a big demand for part-time work ie three days a week or less. Workingmums.co.uk’s annual poll shows that 75% of women on maternity leave want to return part time.

Part of that is driven by childcare costs. Agile working has not been accompanied by agile childcare, which is still mainly about fixed days and fixed hours. Workingmums.co.uk’s survey shows 46% of parents say that their childcare arrangements are not flexible enough for their needs.

Part-timers argue that they should still be able to progress their career and that job shares provide a good way of covering a full-time role with two part timers. In fact job share partners can give greater coverage than a single full-time worker if both job share partners don’t take their holiday at the same time. However, the number of job share roles has not increased significantly in recent years due to resistance among senior managers and practical issues around finding the right match.

HR directors have told Workingmums.co.uk that they are concerned that part-time work is losing out to agile work. This is despite research showing parents who work full time are often overloaded and in danger of burnout and would like to reduce their hours in order to have a greater work life balance.

What then is the solution? For Working Families, it is about job redesign and about creating jobs which enable people to work productively and using their skills and experience without pushing them to burnout. It is about promoting part-time role models – both female and, crucially, male, creating quality part-time roles that allow people to progress and about making the case for flexible working to be about a whole gamut of possible ways of working. The demand is there. In an era of skills shortages and the growing influence of artificial intelligence, the business case also seems clear.

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