Covid and the case for innovation in part-time working

Covid should be the engine for innovation when it comes to flexible working, particularly part-time hours.

Part time working or full time working spelled out in dice


Part-time vacancies decreased during Covid, falling by as much as 70% in the first 11 weeks of the first lockdown, mainly as a result of the industries that were particularly hard hit such as hospitality and retail. During Covid, flexible working also came to be associated almost entirely with remote working despite the fact that it takes many other forms, from annualised and compressed hours to flexi and part-time hours, including job shares. Some employers are put off hiring people on a part-time basis because they find it more challenging to manage different work patterns effectively and often part-time workers themselves end up being exploited when managers agree reduced hours, but don’t reduce their workload accordingly, making the whole thing unsustainable or, at the very least, extremely stressful [not to mention that people can end up working effectively full time for part-time pay].

But, although Covid had a negative impact on part-time work in some respects, there were also positives. A report out this week from Cranfield School of Management looks at the impact of part-time furlough, whereby employers could furlough someone for part of the week and bring them in as and when needed on reduced hours because of reduced demand and Covid safety issues. They found that flexible furlough helped to build managers’ confidence in handling different work patterns and they are pressing for this to be taken forward with a focus on part-time innovation.

Other different models that have taken off during the pandemic include the four-day week, which may not be appropriate for all employers or all jobs in an organisation, but capitalises on people’s need to rest adequately in today’s hyper-intensive workplaces and on the need to support managers with, for instance, rethinking workloads, time management generally and more.

The important thing is to encourage innovation and new thinking. We know that the traditional 9 to 5 doesn’t work for many people and isn’t in fact the model that many people now work to despite the fact that support structures, such as childcare, have, in most instances, been slow to adapt because they are often firefighting funding issues. It simply has to be made easier.

Some may argue that the demand now, during the cost of living crisis, is more for full-time work and the number of full-time jobs has increased. But part time is also part of the mix. Some people are working full time doing a patchwork of part-time roles to get more flexibility and variety and so as not to put all their eggs in one basket, for instance. Others are looking to do part-time work on the side of other jobs, say, at the weekends. Some are easing their way back to work due to health and other issues and only want to work part time. Some can afford to work part time only. More part-time work could be a vital way to keep older workers in work for longer as the population ages. Perhaps that work would need to be subsidised in some way. Some advocate a Universal Basic Income or something similar. Flexible furlough provides some kind of a model. What about the cost, people will say, but the cost of old age poverty or ongoing labour shortages or health issues linked to unemployment is huge. Maybe support could be targeted at the lowest earners too.

Whatever the complexities of the issue, it is important that we are debating it and pushing forwards.

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