Why saying ‘open to flexible working’ is not enough

A new survey shows why employers need to ensure that they are clear about all the flexible working embraces.

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Last week a survey came out suggesting that using the catch-all phrase ‘open to flexible working’ in recruitment advertising for full-time jobs may be putting flexibility-seeking candidates off from applying because it’s too generic to be meaningful.

Timewise Jobs, who conducted the survey, said that one reason is that people don’t search on the term ‘flexible jobs’. They are looking for specific types of flexibility and they worry that putting ‘open to flexible working’ is just a lip service thing.

They are also very clued up on employers who offer a job as potentially flexible which the candidate has to make work because the employer hasn’t actually looked at how it could be done flexibly.

The most interesting part of the survey was that many candidates thought ‘flexible working’ did not include ‘part-time’ or homeworking, with over half saying they didn’t think part time was included.

Many definitions

In the early days of flexible working legislation, it seemed to be all about part time. But since then we have had agile working, smart working, hybrid working, the 4-day week on full pay…Agile working, for instance, was brought in in part to distance flexible working from associations with part-time working mums, to broaden flexibility out to others, particularly men, and to rebrand it as exciting, aspirational and pro-business. So far, so good.

But for some that seemed to play to prejudice against and stereotypes of working mums and of part-time working, that somehow it is not dynamic or committed enough for go-getting career types aka men – another stereotype. And it ignored the logistical issues associated with childcare provision. You can’t be quite so agile if you’re childcare isn’t. While it is great to emphasise that there are many different ways to work, the survey shows that these need to be spelt out somehow and somewhere. Otherwise, no-one knows what is really being talked about.

For instance, in the last 18 months it feels, from listening to policymakers and media people, that flexible working has become synonymous with remote working, which is why it is surprising that the survey shows nearly a quarter of people don’t see it as flexible working.

Part-time working has slipped right off the agenda and part-time roles are the ones that have been badly impacted by Covid because many of the sectors worst hit rely heavily on a part-time workforce. While remote working may enable some people who would previously have gone for part-time jobs to work full time, there are still many who want to work less than full time for a huge variety of reasons. Maybe they have caring responsibilities or they want a portfolio career or they do voluntary work or they are building their own business or they have health issues or they can’t afford the childcare costs. The list is long. Moreover, Covid has concentrated the mind for many.


The issue of flex-washing – where employers talk about flexibility, but don’t do anything to actually look at how jobs can be done flexibly – has long been a problem.

Often people are left to shoehorn a full-time job into part-time hours and end up working on their days off. If you reduce the hours in a job, you surely need to reduce the associated tasks and expectations.

Otherwise it simply is not a part-time role and people are just being paid less to do essentially a full-time job in a world in which full time is now often way more than five days doing a 9-5.

And yet this is what happens all the time and not much fuss has been raised. Is that because it is mainly women who have been doing this and feeling worried about rocking the boat too much in case their requests to spend less time in the office are turned down?

Many managers seem to have absolutely no idea how much this goes on nor how exhausting and unjust it is. It’s not that working mums are not committed [far from it], it’s not that working mums are not up to it, that they can’t keep up, that they are a liability. It is that work is built on a structure that is totally weighted against them and the expectations of them in all spheres are too great. Until employers truly understand that and explicitly list the different ways of working available things will not change.

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