Dr Nicola Murray of the PrOPEL Hub team and Strathclyde Business School shares key insights from Flexibility Works’ Flex for Life 2022 Report and highlights the benefits of embedding flexibility into organisational strategy.

The pandemic has given rise to one of the biggest shake-ups to the world of work we have ever experienced and as restrictions on our lives and work continue to reduce, businesses now face some important decisions about the direction they’re going to take going forward.

Two years on from the first UK lockdown, Flexibility Works have released their 2022 Flex for Life Report, an important contribution to this debate that draws on insights from research with 1,021 workers in Scotland and 201 Scottish business leaders. Co-founded by Nikki Slowey and Lisa Gallagher, Flexibility Works is a social business working to accelerate the adoption of flexible and new ways of working in Scotland by sharing advice, insight and best practice, which improves business success, employee engagement and wellbeing. Lisa and Nikki promote the idea that flexibility is about more than just home working and is about having control over where, when and how much we work – while some roles are easier to flex than others, there is scope for some autonomy on one or more of these dimensions within most roles.

Key Findings

Shifting Perceptions:

The research sheds light on changing expectations of workers in Scotland and what they want from their employers. Of the workers included in the research:

  • 82% want more flexibility to enhance their work life balance (compared to 65% pre-pandemic)
  • 48% said more flexibility would be beneficial to their wellbeing
  • 27% said having more flexibility in their jobs would help them with childcare responsibilities

Job Seekers:

Given the competitive talent markets many industries now face, it may be important for organisations to consider increasing flexible working options for their workforce if they would like to access previously untapped areas of the talent pool. This is important not only for business but also for enhancing equality and widening access to work:

  • 64% of active job seekers reported flexibility (time or location) to be one of their most important considerations when applying/accepting new jobs (60% said salary)
  • 86% of unemployed job seekers reported flexibility as an important consideration for them (versus 63% who said salary) – the report suggests that many of these individuals may need flexibility in order to work
  • 44% of unemployed respondents with caring responsibilities reported flexibility to be the most important criteria in their job search (double the percentage that said salary)

Access to Flex:

One of the more concerning, though not unexpected, findings of the research was that salary and flexibility go hand in hand. As salary increases, so too does access to flexible working:

  • Men on salaries of more than £50,000 were the group most likely to have access to flexible working
  • Women on salaries less than £20,000 were the least likely to have access to flexible working
  • Households with combined incomes of less than £30,000, along with single parents, also had low levels of access to flexible working options

The stark contrasts between different workers serves as a reminder of how far we still have to go to embed equality within workplaces.

Employers’ Views:

Though there are challenges associated with introducing flexible working (see the report for further details) the majority of employers included in the research were positive about the impact of changing their ways of working:

  • 63% reported that flexibility has been positive for their business
  • 69% believe flexibility can boost the economy
  • 75% think it can contribute a healthier society overall

Equality in the Workplace

As you’ll know if you’re a regular reader of articles from the PrOPEL Hub, we are strong advocates of fair work and equality in the workplace. The benefits of flexible working both for employers as well as employees are clear to see and though interest in this area is arguably an unexpected positive to come out of the pandemic, caution is also required when considering how this will evolve going forward. As the report highlights, it’s essential that we work to ensure that flexibility is something that is available to as many people as possible regardless of salary or level if we are to avoid a future where there is division of the workforce between those whose jobs are flexible and those whose are not (‘flexers’ and ‘non-flexers’). This is crucial if we are to avoid increasing the inequalities highlighted above around gender, access to the labour market and caring responsibilities.  

Final thoughts

The key message to take from Flex for Life (2022) is that the approach going forward needs to be strategic and inclusive. In addition to sharing lots more detail on the statistics mentioned above, the report also provides insights into the key challenges employers face in implementing flexible working and ways to overcome these and concludes with ‘14 Top Tips’ to help you right now.

Whether you’re a business that introduced home working as a necessity during the pandemic that is now looking for a more sustainable approach to build into your overall strategy going forward, or you’re an organisation working with frontline roles that would like to find out more about introducing a level of flexibility in order to make your company more appealing in a competitive talent market – Flex for Life (2022) could be the starting point you’re looking for.