Timewise Foundation Logo

Is the growth in flexibly advertised jobs over? Here’s why it mustn’t be

While our latest Flexible Jobs Index indicates the pace of change has slowed, employer need and employee demand remain strong. Let’s keep it moving in the right direction.

By Clare McNeil, Director, Timewise Innovation Unit

The explosion in flexible working as a result of the pandemic – particularly in its home and hybrid working forms – had a clear impact on the number of flexibly advertised jobs. After creeping up by a percent or two each year from our first Flexible Jobs Index in 2015, just 15% of roles were advertised with flexible options in 2019. By 2022, that number had doubled to 30%.

It’s therefore disappointing to see from this year’s Index that this rate of growth has dramatically slowed. Our research indicates that 31% of job adverts now overtly offer some form of flexible working; a negligible change from the previous year, and a big drop from the kind of increases we’ve got used to. And even the growth in the number of home and hybrid working jobs that are advertised as flexible – which went up 9% between 2019 and 2022 – has stalled.

So does this mean that we’ve hit a peak in the proportion of jobs that are advertised as flexible? Is this it? We’re clear that it mustn’t be.

Employers need to offer flexible working, and employees continue to demand it

The fact is, the need and demand for flexible working are as strong as ever. Although the vacancy peak of 2022 is slowing, economic growth continues to be held back by a tight labour market, and in many sectors, including healthcare, education and hospitality, staff shortages are at critical levels. Given that 9 in 10 people want to work flexibly, and 4 million UK employees have changed careers due to a lack of flexibility at work, it seems hugely short-sighted that employers are failing to use flexible working to attract new staff.

It’s not just about getting employees in, either; flexible working has a huge part to play in creating strong, healthy workplaces in which people stay, and thrive. It’s been shown to improve health and wellbeing, increase inclusion for key groups (including parents, carers and people with health issues), reduce absenteeism and even boost productivity. What’s more, our research has indicated that the changes required to offer flexible working can pay for themselves in just a few years, through reduced sickness absence and improved staff retention.

All of which makes it surprising that more companies aren’t including flexible working in their talent toolkits. And with new legislation due to be introduced in spring 2024, which gives people the right to request flexible working from day one in a new job, it really is time for employers to get off the fence and start proactively offering it to new employees at the point of hire.

How employers and policymakers can help increase the pace of change

So how can we get back to a position where the number of flexibly advertised jobs is increasing at a more promising rate? Our Flexible Jobs Index sets out a number of actions that employers and policymakers can take, including:

  • Getting ready for the new legislation

    It’s happening, whether employers like it or not. But as well as being a legal requirement, it also presents an opportunity for employers to shift their approach, so that rather than just being willing to respond to requests for flexible working, they are ready to offer it proactively.

    Doing this well will involve a number of changes; for example, leaders will need to equip line managers to have flexible working conversations with candidates, and HR teams will need to review and refresh a swathe of policies and processes. We offer training that can support this; we’ve also set out seven steps to help employers prepare for the new legislation here.
  • Getting clear on what kinds of flexibility are possible

    Part-time and hybrid are the most-offered flexible working arrangements, each appearing in 12% of job adverts in 2023. But there are many other ways to work flexibly which are even less commonly advertised. For example, only 4% of job ads offer flexible times of work; an arrangement that is relatively simple to facilitate, and which can allow some employees to balance their work and life.

    So employers who want to attract a wider pool of candidates should explore the whole range of options, decide which they can offer, and then advertise them proactively. It’s also worth articulating them as clearly as possible; our research has shown that candidates can be mistrustful of vague phrases like ‘Open to flexible working’, preferring to understand what specific options might be available.
  • Taking a sector-wide approach

    There are pockets of good flexible hiring practice all over the UK, but they’re often not shared or replicated, which inevitably limits their impact. The best way to scale up innovation is to take a sector-led approach, so we are calling on the Department for Business and Trade to task the UK’s current network of Sector Skills Councils with promoting advice and guidance to employers on flexible working and job design.

    We know first-hand the impact that it can have when you tackle flexible working at this level, having carried out innovative pilots and research across sectors including construction, retail, health and social care.

These changes, and the others recommended in our report, could reboot the growth in flexibly advertised jobs, and get us back on the path towards a flourishing economy, powered by a healthier, more equal workforce. Let’s not lose the momentum that we gained during and after the pandemic; we need to keep moving forwards, and we need to start now.

Published November 2023

Other Recent Articles