What will happen to part-time working post Covid?

Many people want or need to work part time, but there are concerns that not enough part-time roles are being advertised. Could part-time furlough encourage more employers to consider it?

Part Time or Full Time writing on block with clock on top


Cranfield School of Management announced this week that it is doing research into flexible furlough and whether it has encouraged employers to hire more part-time workers. The announcement came as Timewise and the Institute of Employment Studies warned that part-time workers have been disproportionately hit by the Covid pandemic and have been more likely to lose their jobs, have their hours reduced or be furloughed than full-time workers.

The worry is that those still furloughed may be more at risk of job loss and that part-time opportunities may not be available because few are still being advertised.

Meanwhile, we know that many people have increased their hours and taken full-time work as a result of their partners losing work or increased demand during the pandemic and that some employers have sought to change people’s contracted hours over the last 18 months. Then there is the uncertain impact of hybrid working – will that encourage more people to work full time with half the week being based at home?

Everything is still very uncertain and nowhere more so than over what happens to those workers who are still furloughed. Some of the reasons for the current skills shortages in certain sectors are put down to the number of people still on furlough. If furloughed staff lose their jobs will they be able to fill the skills shortages that now exist across sectors including hospitality, retail, IT and many more? Covid has coincided with Brexit so it is difficult to chart what the future might look like. Moreover, it is not just that different sectors and roles have been affected in different ways by the pandemic, but the varied regional impact also has to be borne in mind.

Timewise and the Institute of Employment Studies are right to highlight the demand for part-time work and the lack of part-time opportunities, particularly quality ones with progression pathways and offering more than the minimum wage. There has been much talk about flexible working during the pandemic, but it has almost entirely been synonymous with remote or hybrid working. For many people with caring responsibilities – as well as many others – part-time work is vital. For working parents, it’s not just that childcare is expensive or inflexible or unavailable. Many find it stressful squeezing parenting into a full-time working week, particularly if full-time work means virtually working all the time. They want more time with their children.

Part-time work is not just about individual choice. It helps to keep people in the workforce who might otherwise have to drop out. It also provides employers with a talent pool of often highly experienced people. The big question, and one that Cranfield School of Management is seeking to address, is whether, as seen elsewhere in other recessions, part-time work will be used as way to build back.

Research fellow Dr Charlotte Gascoigne, who will work on Cranfield’s project, says the idea of paying or part-paying people to not work “is completely alien to what has come before” in the UK. Will it make a difference or will hybrid and remote working push us more towards a full-time model despite the widespread demand for greater work life balance?

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