The future for flex

Homeworking desk


All this month has a particular focus on flexible working and will feature advice, support, news and features related to flexible working. We kick off with a Q & A with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development who chair the Government’s new Flexible Working Task Force which held its inaugural meeting last month. What does the Task Force aim to achieve?

CIPD: The Flexible Working Task Force convened to respond to the Prime Minister’s challenge to businesses to advertise all jobs as flexible from Day 1.  So, in a broad sense, its aim is to increase the provision and uptake of flexible working.

The group aims to establish where we currently stand in terms of the level of flexible working available in the UK; understand the reasons behind these trends; clarify the benefits of flexible working for both businesses and individuals; and gather evidence to support the development of strategies to increase the provision of flexible working.

By increasing flexibility in the labour market and the workplace by extending the provision of flexible working, the Task Force hopes to lay the basis for the UK labour market to achieve a narrower pay gap, increased representation and progression for minority groups in the labour market, as well as greater health and well-being for the workforce brought on by improved work-life balance.

WMs:What are some of the main challenges to embedding flexible working?

CIPD: One of the main barriers to embedding flexible working is whether or not the culture of a workplace supports a flexible approach to working, and the attitudes of employers and line managers as to whether or not it will adversely affect productivity.

Many still believe that flexible working will have a negative impact on productivity. There also has to be a willingness to promote the benefits of flexible working in terms of enhanced employee engagement, loyalty and commitment – but if an organisation is not convinced of the potential benefits, it is unlikely to promote it to line managers and encourage take up.

Another barrier is a narrow view of what flexible working is and who it is for. Flexible working arrangements are often largely restricted to part-time working and flexi time. We need employers to think more innovatively about working arrangements and job design to enable people to access and progress in work in a way that works for them and the business. In many businesses they are still seen as a ‘perk’ for women with children rather than a productivity enabler. They are also seen as most suitable in junior roles, meaning that often career progression is limited or even blocked for those needing flexible working arrangements.

The effective implementation of flexible working depends on having working relationships based on trust – managers need to base performance assessments on outcomes and not presenteeism.  There also has to be a commitment to putting the time into developing flexible working relationships that work for both the individual and the team. Regular communication with the individual is also needed, especially if the individual is working remotely or from home.

It’s important to understand that line managers may not feel confident in managing a team that is not working the traditional 9-5 at their desks. They need to be given training and support to manage people in more innovative flexible working arrangements. There is a perception that it’s easier to have everyone on a standard set of contracts and working patterns, without thought for the implications for the business of excluding certain groups of talented employees.

Here is a table from our Employee Outlook survey on flexible working – – that can also provide data for this question.

WMs: How regularly does the Task Force meet?

CIPD: The Task Force will meet every other month: the first meeting was in March, and the next one will be in May.

WMs:Is there any particular structure to the discussions [e.g. specific subjects for each meetings such as recruitment, management, etc.]?

CIPD: Although the CIPD is the co-chair, we are still one of 15 members of the Task Force; much of the focus and direction of the group will be heavily driven by its membership.

However, as a programme of work, we would like the group to focus on all stages of the employee life cycle, including recruitment, retention, progression and returning.

WMs: Will a report be forthcoming and will this feed into the review of the flexible working legislation?

CIPD: The Task Force will report directly to Andrew Griffiths, Minister of State for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility, and will lay the basis for the proposed review of the right to request flexible working due in 2019.

WMs: How will the Task Force be working with other organisations who are promoting flexible working?

CIPD: Although the membership of the Task Force is broad and representative of cross-sector professional bodies, trade unions, employer groups and government departments, we are still trying to work out ways to increase the knowledge pool of the group.

We are really keen to hear from organisations and individuals who can offer their expertise in this area, as well as employers who are paving the way for others in flexible working.​ The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are in the process of setting up a contact email address for people to feed into.

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