Report shows inequality gap over access to flexible working

The Working Families Index shows evidence of a divide between high earning desk-based parents and others when it comes to flexible working, with fears that those whose job cannot be done remotely are being left behind.

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A growing divide is opening between higher paid parents who are able to get more flexibility at work and those who can’t, according to a new report from work-life balance charity Working Families and professional coaching organisation Talking Talent.

Based on a survey of 2,806 parents and carers, the Working Families Index 2022 finds that there has been an overall increase in the number of parents and carers working flexibly in the UK: 70% of respondents reported working flexibly compared to just 55% in 2019. However, the report also found that higher earners (over £60k) and those in knowledge-based industries are most likely to be working flexibly, leaving many parents and carers on lower incomes and in ‘place-based’ roles behind.

The Index includes a ranking table of the most and least flexible sectors as reported by the parents and carers surveyed:

Most flexible (over 80% of respondents in these sectors reported working flexibly):

  • Marketing advertising and PR
  • Business consulting and management
  • Not for profit and charity work
  • Creative arts and design
  • Accountancy, banking and finance

Least flexible (less than 65% of respondents in these sectors reported working flexibly):

  • Healthcare
  • Retail
  • Teacher training and education
  • Engineering and manufacturing
  • Transport and logistics

The five industries with the least flexibility are those in which roles are less suited to homeworking. Three of them (healthcare, retail, and teacher training and education) overwhelmingly employ women, disproportionately affecting women’s access to flexible work, says Working Families.

The survey also showed respondents who felt confident their family responsibilities wouldn’t affect how fairly they were treated were twice as likely to see themselves staying in their role for the next two years compared with those who didn’t feel this way. Moreover, 60 per cent said it has become more difficult financially for them in the last three years. The survey was conducted in November before the cost of living crisis had reached the levels it is currently at.

Working Families is calling for employers to take a number of measures to help working families, including providing subsidised holiday childcare or loans for childcare deposits, training managers in how to have conversations about flexible working, having senior leaders leading from the top on flexible working, measuring performance based on results, advertising flexible jobs, looking at career progression for flexible workers and experimenting with what works with regard to flexible working. With the survey showing three quarters of parents regularly work overtime, mostly to bring in more money, but often because it is part of the culture, Working Families also called for more focus on designing human-sized jobs – jobs that can realistically be done in contracted hours – and on working protocols on issues such as the need for regular breaks.

Jane van Zyl, Chief Executive of Working Families, said: “The Working Families Index emphasises that now more than ever, we need to ensure that flexible working is accessible to all. It’s vital to enabling working parents and carers to access and stay in employment, which is a matter of survival amidst the current cost-of-living crisis.

“At the moment we are seeing huge growth in home and hybrid working. While we can celebrate this, it’s leaving a lot of working parents and carers behind in sectors where home and hybrid options are less possible. Millions of these are our frontline workers, people who kept vital services going throughout the pandemic. Flexible working should not just be the preserve of those who work at a desk—and working from home is just one of many types of flexible working. We encourage employers in every sector to take a look at all of the ways in which they can make flexible working possible. If employers get this right, they will reap the benefits of increased loyalty and retention.”

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