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Flexible working: a talent imperative

A research study into the UK workforce: who wants flexibility, for what reasons, and how much it matters to them.

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  • 63% of full-time employees already work flexibly in some way.
  • 87% of all full-time employees either work flexibly already, or say they want to
  • The preference for flexible working is strong for both sexes: 84% of male full-time employees either work flexibly already, or say they want to. For women this rises to 91%.
  • Younger workers want it most: 92% either work flexibly or say they want to.
  • Amongst the different types of flexible working patterns, 1 in 4 (25%) of all full-time employees would specifically prefer to work part-time for part-time wages.
  • 93% of non-workers who want a job would prefer to work either part-time, or flexibly in a full-time role.
  • And among self-employed people, 89% work flexibly.
  • People are most likely to say their reason for wanting to work flexibly is work/life balance, or it being generally useful or convenient. Other key reasons include commuting issues, leisure or study interests, and caring responsibilities.

What do we mean by ‘flexible working’?

Flexible working means different things to different people. Our research focuses on the following types of flexibility, which are generally seen as favourable for the employee:

  • Flexible working hours (sometimes called ‘flexi-time’)
  • Working from home or remotely (for some or all of the working week)
  • Shift work (with the ability to choose favourable shifts)
  • Term time or seasonal work
  • Part-time hours

Our respondents included full-time workers who might be working flexibly now (or not), and may have told us they would prefer to work part-time or to work full-time but with flexibility in their working pattern.

Implications for employers


  • Our research finds that the UK appetite for flexible working has been grossly underestimated. The proportion of full-time workers who are already working flexibly (63%) far surpasses previous estimates, let alone the proportion of people who would prefer to (87%).
  • The research also confounds the idea that flexible working is only of business interest as a solution to diversity and inclusion problems. It may well help to solve those problems, but the demand for flexible working goes much further – cutting across all ages and genders.
  • To attract the best talent, it is clearly no longer sufficient to have a flexible working policy in place, offering flexibility only to existing employees on request. Employers must build a proactive flexible working strategy that makes it part of ‘the norm’, and opens it up to all employees equally, rather than targeting it at specific groups.


  • When 87% of UK employees either work flexibly already, or would prefer to, it makes no sense at all that fewer than 1 in 10 job adverts offer flexible working as an employee benefit 
  • Candidates who need flexibility are worried about applying for roles that don’t specifically mention it.
  • The result is that many excellent candidates get stuck in their flexible jobs, preferring to stay in place even if it means they miss out on career progression. The impact of down-skilling is huge – for example, 1.5 million people are trapped in low-paid, part-time jobs below their skill level, because they can’t find an appropriate new job with the working pattern they need7.
  • ‘Flexible hiring’ is lagging far behind the take-up of flexible working in the UK. Greater transparency is urgently needed in job adverts, followed through with much more open conversations around flexible working during the recruitment process.


Timewise commissioned the survey from ComRes, who interviewed 3,001 UK adults online between 13th and 26th June 2017. Within these sub-samples: 1,250 full-time employees; 750 part-time employees; 500 self-employed people; 501 people who were not working but wanted to work. All participants were aged 18+. The data for full-time employees and for part time employees was weighted to be representative of the UK working population for those employment types; other data were unweighted.

Published September 2017

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