Managers more supportive of flexible working post-pandemic

A new report finds a majority of managers think flexible working improves concentration and motivation as well as  boosting productivity.

Freelancer with flexible working


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, according to a new report.

The Equal Parenting Project 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:

 51.8% 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
 43.7% 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%)

The report recommends that businesses review flexible working policies to ensure they are not gendered and that policymakers 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 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.”

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