Employers told to beware of giving the illusion of flexible working

A new report warns of the dangers of false flexible working where people end up working all hours and the lines between work and family life are blurred.

women sleeping on laptop


Employers must avoid measures that give the illusion of flexible working while still requiring staff to work long hours and be ‘always on’, according to a new report which warns of the impact in particular on parents and carers.

The report is based on research by advisory agency Karian and Box and the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London who surveyed 254 organisations. They found that, while 90% said they had increased support for homeworking since the start of the pandemic and 97% are planning to adopt a hybrid working model in some form, more targeted measures such as job redesign were less common:

36% of employers surveyed are actively redesigning job roles for home or hybrid working.
52% said they had provided more support for part-time working.
63% had increased support for parents and carers.
77% reported doing more to help employees work flexibly.

The report warns that true flexibility is about how people work, not just where, and that homeworking should therefore be seen as the beginning, not the end point, of moves towards new ways of working.

It says that without more targeted support the risk is an increased blurring of the boundaries between work and family life and an ‘always on’ culture.

There is a need to think more broadly about flexible working and the different forms it can take, the report says, including having predictable or set hours, working compressed hours, job-sharing and term-time working.

And it warns against the dangers of creating a “two-tier” workforce, where those who work from home more regularly – who are likely to be women – are overlooked for recognition and promotions.

The report says that to combat this, organisations should establish routines and processes to ensure that employees working from home do not miss out on exposure and informal interactions with colleagues and leaders, and to think about opportunities for face-to-face interaction where appropriate.

Professor Rosie Campbell, director of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London, said: “There are real opportunities to create more inclusive workplaces as we learn the lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic. The importance of care and caring has been highlighted by the central role that carers, paid and unpaid, have played in responding to the crisis. But in many sectors, job design has paid too little attention to the needs of this group, and as a result much talent is lost from the workforce.

“This is the moment to redesign work to tackle a range of problems holding back progress – from inflexible shift patterns for key workers, through to toxic, ‘always-on’ office cultures. There is a danger that the existing two-tier office workforce, where part-time workers are not promoted, will be replaced by a three-tier hierarchy between head office, hybrid and remote workers. To avoid this, employers should focus on outputs, rather than physical presence, in performance evaluations, and embrace the opportunity to consider how and where work is done to produce the best outcomes for the organisation and its employees.”

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