The Taylor Review into quality work: why flexibility holds the key

The publication of the much-anticipated Taylor Review focuses attention on providing more security for flexible workers. But approaching the issue from the opposite direction, and offering more flexibility to permanent workers, is equally important, argues Emma Stewart MBE, Joint CEO of Timewise.

Quality Working Flexible Working

For those of us who are concerned with improving the quality of work, the publication of the Taylor Review is a landmark moment. It’s a thorough, detailed report that highlights the issues raised by a changing labour market, such as the evolving gig economy, and makes a series of recommendations around improving the rights and conditions of people who want to work outside the traditional 9-5.

Central to the report is the principle that: “All work in the UK should be fair and decent, with realistic scope for development and fulfilment” and that this relies on the provision of quality work. Here at Timewise, we couldn’t agree more. And we believe that making permanent jobs more flexible through proper job design – rather than just improving conditions for those who currently work flexibly – is critical to unlocking quality jobs for individuals for whom full time isn’t an option.

Over 2 million flexible workers need security – but more permanent workers need flexibility

As the report notes, there are around 900,000 workers on zero hours contracts and 1.3 million workers in the gig economy, who have a degree of flexibility but are lacking basic employment rights. But there are also millions of people in the UK for whom it’s flexibility that is missing. From the 11 million working parents (including the 50% of millennial dads who would take a pay cut to spend more time with their children) to the 3 million working carers, it’s clear that the demand for flexible work far outstrips the supply.

Unfortunately, however, flexible working is still perceived by many employers to be a perk offered to existing employees rather than being advertised at the point of hire – and in many cases, without proper planning. The result is that, despite real leaps in technology that support flexible working, around half of managers still think flexibility is incompatible with the nature of their work. And of the permanent employees who do work flexibly, most are in low paid sectors, with extremely limited career progression. Not, then, the quality work that the Taylor Review is calling for.

The answer is clear: innovative, thought-through job design

So how can we achieve the secure flexible roles that the workforce so desperately needs? The solution is to design jobs that have flexibility built in. But although there’s been a great deal of debate even before the report was published about what should be done, there is far less practical support and expertise available to help employers who want to become more flexible find out how to do so.

Timewise, however, have been working proactively with employers to make change happen, by creating innovative solutions for ‘compatible flexibility’ that work for the business as well as its employees (described in the report as ‘two-way flexibility’). We are pioneers of what we term ‘social consultancy’.  As a result, we’re already working along many of the lines that the Taylor Review has suggested:

 “It is still the case that too few jobs are advertised as being available to people who wish to work flexibly.” (p 95)

Our Hire Me My Way campaign is inspiring candidates to join our call for more employers to offer flexibility at the point of hire, and encouraging flexible employers to stand up and be counted.

“Quality work that is flexible and allows for fulfilment and development requires careful thought around the interaction of consumer demand, technology and societal norms.” (p95)

Our job design pilots focus on how to support employers to create compatible flexibility for low wage workers. A recent example is our Caring By Design project, which was highlighted on p94 of the report.

“NICE issued guidance in 2015 on an organisational commitment to make health and wellbeing a core priority for top management in the NHS.” (p97)

One of the key pathways cited by NICE to deliver on this commitment was through job design. We are already working with the NHS on a national pilot to explore how introducing flexibility into job specifications will help make this a reality.

“There should be a greater focus in national and local policy on supporting people not just to enter the labour market but to remain in work and progress to better quality employment.” (p99)

We have already delivered a pilot for DWP trialling new ways to help women trapped in low-paid part time jobs progress into better but still flexible jobs.

“The Low Pay Commission should work with employers to ensure sector specific codes of practice and guidance are developed that support the provision of quality work.” (p108)

We agree that job design needs to be relevant to the operational issues within each industry, and so create bespoke pilot schemes for individual sectors, such as our current Retail Pioneers project in conjunction with the BRC.

So we welcome the focus that the publication of the Taylor Review will bring to the need to offer workers both flexibility and security. But while we’re sure that the debate around how to tackle the gig and zero hours models will no doubt continue, we hope equal attention will be given developing flexibility, quality and progression in permanent jobs.

We’re proud of the steps we’re already taking to make that happen – but we also believe there are great strides still to be made if the supply of quality flexible work is ever to match the growing demand. That’s why we’re developing an Innovation Unit, which will work with businesses to design, test and share new approaches to increasing the availability of quality flexible work in the UK. The unit launches next year, and promises to be a gamechanger for the employers who work alongside us – we hope you’ll be part of it.

For an initial conversation about how your industry could benefit from our expertise, call Emma Stewart on 020 7633 4559.