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PRESS RELEASE: “We are failing people with everyday frontline jobs”

Timewise CEO Emma Stewart MBE voices concern that 5.5m employees in shift work are missing out on ‘Good Flexible Work’.

11 October 2018

In summary:

  • The argument that flexible working is as good for business as it is for employees may have been accepted – but 5.5m UK employees1 are in shift work and are being left behind.
  • People who work shifts include those with crucial everyday frontline jobs (nurses, warehouse employees, retail assistants) which are outside of the traditional 9-5, but allow little control over working patterns.
  • Emma Stewart warns that we risk sleep-walking into a two-tier system in which flexibility is only available to those whose professions or workplaces can more easily be flexified – i.e. those in office jobs.
  • The forgotten frontliners need flexibility too; it’s time to tackle the operational barriers that stand in the way of making Good Flexible Work available to all.
  • The response? The Timewise Innovation Unit, a new do-tank, launches today. The unit will develop and design two-way flexibility in hard-to-crack sectors.

Uneven access to flexible working

Nursing staffing crisisAward-winning social entrepreneur Emma Stewart MBE today warns business leaders that the UK is ‘sleepwalking into a two-tier jobs system’ in which flexibility is only for those in office-based roles, who largely control their own schedules. Her response is to announce the creation of the Timewise Innovation Unit, designed to break down the barriers to Good Flexible Work in other sectors, on behalf of, amongst others, the ‘5.5m people1’ in the UK in shift work, including those in everyday frontline jobs such as nurses, retail assistants and warehouse workers.

With the argument that flexible working benefits business having been won, Good Flexible Work is becoming more common in certain professions and workplaces – particularly for office-based roles in which varied working patterns are easier to accommodate.

But for employees in hard-to-crack sectors, it’s a different story. According to new analysis of ONS labour market data produced by the Resolution Foundation for the new Timewise Innovation Unit, around 5.5m1 people in the UK are employed in shift-based roles. This accounts for one fifth of all UK employees (20 per cent). Shift workers tend to be on low-middle incomes and they make a critical contribution to the economy; without them everything grinds to a halt. But their working hours, rosters or timetables are often unpredictable and non-negotiable, making a decent work-life balance an unachievable aim.

The repercussions of this lack of proper flexibility are too serious to ignore. In professions such as nursing, the unpredictability of shifts makes some employees feel they have no choice but to give up work. Others, in sectors such as retail, end up stuck in lower-paid roles because they can’t take their flexibility with them if they progress. And there are others, such as teachers, who aren’t shift based, but for whom timetable constraints mean that flexible and part-time working is considered almost impossible.

Launch of the Timewise Innovation Unit

In order to break down these operational barriers, Stewart today launches the brand new Timewise Innovation Unit, a ‘do tank’ that will pilot what Good Flexible Work should look like in these more challenging sectors. Its mission is to ensure that quality flexible jobs which work for both employers and employees (known as two-way flexibility) are available to all.

The Timewise Innovation Unit will take a practical approach, researching, trialling and testing different ways to design rosters, timetables and jobs themselves, so that flexibility and predictability are built in. The first 3 pilots will focus on:

  • The NHS: can we retain more nurses by giving them more control over when their shifts are set?
  • Education: can we attract more teachers to the profession by making genuinely part-time roles work around the timetable?
  • Wholesale and logistics: how can we progress more warehouse employees to management roles in a 24/7 operating environment and help employers to maximise their skills?

Additionally, Timewise will partner with the Centre for Better Ageing on a major pilot looking at how to help retain and attract older workers by redesigning jobs so they can be worked flexibly. Timewise and the Centre for Better Ageing will trial new working methods with a pool of employers and report on the findings in 2020.

The Timewise Innovation Unit is headed by Emma Stewart MBE, the CEO of Timewise, and will be chaired by Gavin Kelly, CEO of the Resolution Trust. Members include:

  • Campbell Robb, CEO, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
  • Adam Marshall, Director General, British Chambers of Commerce
  • Helen Dickinson, CEO, British Retail Consortium
  • Austin Taylor-Laybourn, Grants Manager, Trust for London
  • Mandy Coalter, Director of People, United Learning
  • Gaby Hinsliff, Journalist
  • Sam White and Will MacDonald, Group Sustainability and Public Policy Director, Aviva
  • Sally Bucknell, Director, Diversity and Inclusion, EY
  • Kirstie Mackey, Head of Citizenship and Consumer Affairs, Barclays
  • Nicola Smith and Alice Hood, Head of Equalities and Strategy, TUC
  • Katerina Rudiger, Chief Community Officer, CIPD
  • Professor Clare Kelliher, Professor of Work and Organisation, Cranfield University
  • Professor Tracey Warren, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Nottingham


Emma Stewart MBE, the head of the new Timewise Innovation Unit says:

“I’m concerned that we have a nation of forgotten frontliners, who have been left behind by the flexible working debates of the past 20 years. Why? Because ‘fixing’ flexibility for them seems like too big a challenge. These people are currently being failed by the rigid way we think about frontline work, which often leads to inflexible rosters and timetables and an all-too common lack of progression.”

“By re-imagining how jobs can be designed and work can be planned, particularly in a large team or shift-based environment, we can help move the flexible working revolution on from the office and into key frontline jobs. It’s time for change; I’m proud to announce that the Timewise Innovation Unit is fully focused on making this change happen.”

Gavin Kelly, the chief executive of the Resolution Trust and Chair of the advisory board for the Timewise Innovation Unit says:

“Better paid, higher quality, flexible jobs are core to improving living standards for a large swath of our workforce. That flexibility needs to be ‘two-way’ – benefitting both the employee and employer. And for that to happen employers need to innovate and learn from leading practice. Which is exactly what the Timewise Innovation Unit has been created.”

Adam Marshall, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, says:

“We need to find ways to maximise opportunities for flexible working in the UK, particularly to help small businesses access the widest possible talent pool and make best use of their skills. I look forward to serving on the Timewise Innovation Unit advisory board, and exploring ways to extend flexible working opportunities to everyone.”

Campbell Robb, Chief Executive of the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation says:

“The lack of quality part-time jobs in the UK is locking many working families in poverty. Better flexible jobs can raise living standards of families and those who need to progress in work. I am delighted to be joining the Timewise Innovation Unit advisory board, to explore new ways to incentivise employers to create good flexible work for everyone who needs it. This is about finding solutions and ensuring that we all live in a society where work offers a route out of poverty.”

Austin Taylor-Laybourn, Grants Manager at Trust for London says:

“We are delighted to support Timewise’s work. The Trust is committed to tackling low pay and good, flexible work is the key to raising living standards for so many families – whether that means helping someone to progress in work or to find a new flexible job entirely. I’m delighted to be sitting on the advisory board and look forward to looking at ways to create ‘two-way’ flexibility with employers in sectors where this can be challenging”

Katerina Rudiger, Chief Community Officer at CIPD says:

Here at CIPD, we are committed to championing flexible working.  It’s vital we find ways of equipping the HR talent of today and tomorrow with skills and resources to design better flexible jobs, and to manage this growing pool of talent. We have already been working with Timewise to build a network of flexible working ambassadors. We’re delighted to continue our work with Timewise by supporting them in this important new initiative.”

Sally Bucknell, Head of Diversity & Inclusiveness at EY, UK & Ireland, comments:

“At EY we have seen the benefits of empowering our people to decide how, when and where they work. By sharing our experiences and best practice, as part of Timewise’s Innovation Unit, we hope we can help to spark change in other industries to boost the UK’s flexible workforce. Engraining flexibility into our culture – the way we do business – has been key and will stand us in good stead in the workplace of the future.”

Sam White and William McDonald job share the role of Group Director of Public Policy & Sustainability at Aviva. Sam White says:

“At Aviva, we see flexibility as being key for people at all stages of life. Joining the Innovation Unit is about taking our experience and sharing it with businesses across different industries.” William McDonald says: “We are always keen to investigate new ways of making work ‘work’ for our people and we are happy to share how and why we do this. We want to support other employers so they can enjoy the benefits – access to brilliant talent, better retention and a dynamic, happier workforce.”

For more information or case studies, please contact Jo Burkill:
T: 0207 633 4553 E: M: 07960472097

Notes to editors

1 Resolution Foundation analysis of ONS, Labour Force Survey April-June 2018. 5.5m employees in the 2nd quarter of 2018 worked said they worked shifts either ‘most of the time’ or ‘occasionally’, equating to 20 per cent of all UK employees (of whom there are 27.4m).

About Timewise

Timewise ( are multi award-winning flexible working experts who share market insights and campaign for a fairer flexible jobs market. Timewise also delivers training and consultancy to help businesses attract and develop the best talent, and runs Timewise Jobs (, a national jobs board for roles that are part-time or open to flexibility.

Timewise is a social business and reinvests 100% of its profits to deliver on its social mission, enabling everyone to find the flexibility they need in their careers whilst maximising their value in the workplace.

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