Insurance firm Zurich says an initiative to advertise all jobs as open to part-time and flexible working has seen a surge in new part-time hires.
In March 2019, insurance firm Zurich decided to launch an initiative to advertise all new vacancies as a potential part-time, job share or full-time opportunity alongside flexible working and the use of more gender neutral language in every job ad in a bid to widen its talent pool.
It was a bold move then and even more so today, when a big increase in remote working seems to have squeezed part-time options off the agenda, despite a huge appetite for greater work life balance from many jobseekers.
Data released today shows that it is paying off. Zurich’s research shows demand for part-time jobs has almost doubled (6% to 11%) since the launch of its flexible working approach. Pre-Covid, 12% of external female hires were on a part-time basis. In the 12 months following the first national lockdown that figure soared to 22% as many struggled to balance caring and home-schooling responsibilities with work. This has increased in the last year, with nearly one in four new female hires (23%) appointed on a part-time basis.
They include Yez Ibrahim [right] who works largely from home as a Claims Consultant. She joined Zurich last June on a part-time basis and works Monday to Wednesday and flexibly. Yez, who has two children, joined after a two-year break and says: “My working patterns give me and my family the perfect balance. I’m not stressed and still able to progress in a demanding role while being present as a parent.”
Nevertheless, the number of men hired on a part-time basis has not shifted and remains at just 2%. However, the number of applications from both men and women has risen by more than two thirds since the initiative was launched.
UK HR manager Steve Collinson says it makes sound business sense, although he admits the company did not predict how dramatic the change in their hiring profile and demographics would be. And yet new research shows that, despite large skills shortages across sectors and worries about the so-called ‘Great Resignation’ triggered in large part by work life balance issues, the majority (74%) of job advertisements still fail to offer any flexible working options.
Collinson says it is not only working mums who are seeking part-time roles and believes more people are seeking greater balance in their lives in the light of the pandemic, but he was not surprised about the lack of change in the numbers of men being hired on a part-time basis which he puts down to “deep-rooted, historical norms and trends” around childcare responsibilities and working part time. Moreover, he thinks it is now easier for men to get informal flexible working so they might not need part-time work so much, given they are generally not the primary carer.
Around 12% of Zurich’s UK workforce is employed on a part-time basis with more than half of this number (56%) working the equivalent of a four-day week and part-time or job share options spread across all levels of the organisation with most of the new recruits being in middle level roles.
Collinson says the company is very open about the specific kinds of flexible working it offers and encourages hiring managers to have open two-way discussions about different ways of working and about potential job redesign. While the number of job shares coming in through external hires has not risen enormously, Collinson says he thinks this is an issue to do with finding the right partner to apply with. Internally, partnerships have been formed if people have worked together and know each other’s style of working well.
The initiative developed out of a collaboration with the Government’s Behavioural Insights Team to identify issues that were blocking career progression for women. The research highlighted a lack of applications from women for senior roles. Many of these roles have not previously been available on a part-time or flexible basis and female employees reported that this lack of apparent flexibility was making them less likely to apply. “We have record levels of vacancies and yet we have smart people who want to build careers and sustainable relationships with their employer but do not want to or can’t work full time,” says Collinson. “That is a missed opportunity for employers. They could have two brains doing a role, two perspectives, two different demographics…”
He adds that Zurich’s flexible approach is now part of the way it works. He is keen not to rest on his laurels, however, and would like in particular to see more men taking up part-time roles. The company is also tracking how its employees perform and progress according to what work pattern they adopt and is looking at this through an intersectional lens too to understand what insights that can give them.
In the meantime, Zurich is keen to shift the dial on flexible working more widely and is calling on the Government to legislate that all companies over an agreed size (for example private companies with over 500 employees and £500 million in turnover) should make all vacancies – wherever possible – available on a part-time, job-share and flexible basis, unless there are specific business reasons why this is not possible.
It says current Government proposals that would give employees the right to request flexible working from day one do not address the issue of people being put off applying for jobs that not advertised as flexible.
Collinson says: “As advocates of flexible working for over a decade, we know that people still want to progress their careers whilst managing a whole host of other commitments. Our approach is about removing barriers for those who need flexibility. We are urging the Government to make businesses like ours advertise all roles as being available on a more flexible basis wherever they can.
“Our part-time jobs initiative means we’re able to access a whole new pool of talent. This is a priority for us in the current climate, but also benefits working parents, carers, those with portfolio careers or other interests they want to pursue. As the labour market tightens, employers need to rethink their approach to attracting and retaining talent. Workers want a new deal and are no longer prepared to work in outdated and rigid patterns.”