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Three flexible working trends to look out for in 2024

As we settle into a new calendar year, what are the likely developments in flexible working? Here are our thoughts.

By Amy Butterworth, Consultancy Director

The year ahead is set to be a big one for working practices. The right to request flexible working from the first day in a new job will come into effect on 6 April – something we’ve long been calling for (and would love to see go further). And there are strong indications that we will see a change of government, to a party whose intentions include extending workers’ rights, closing major employment gaps, and implementing a right to switch off.

Outside of these two big changes, what does 2024 hold? Here are some of the flexible working trends we will be keeping a close eye on this year.

1. Negotiations around time in the office will continue (but WFH is here to stay)

Recent months have seen an intensification of efforts by some employers to increase the amount of time their employees spend in the office. From a top City law firm tracking when employees enter and leave their headquarters, to Nationwide scrapping its ‘work anywhere’ policy, the direction of travel is towards a more structured approach of set days on which employees are expected to be in the building.

However, despite a slew of articles blaming the WFH culture for everything from delaying HS2 to shrinking the car market, few organisations have mandated that their employees must come back full-time. And according to a British Chambers of Commerce and Cisco survey, only one in four companies expect their staff to be in the office full-time in the coming years.

Understandably, employees are keen to retain the home-work balance that they gained following the pandemic; the cost of living crisis has also made people extra keen to limit their commuting costs. And as the protests from Amazon employees over a return-to-office mandate have shown, they are unlikely to give WFH up without a fight.

The Timewise view:

We are firm advocates for the value of in-person time, believing that cohesion and collaboration are improved when team members spend some of their working time together. But we also believe employers need to take steps to ensure they deliver that value, and create a culture in which employees are supported to make both their in-office and remote time count. And that setting an arbitrary number of days that people need to come in, without thinking about what they are coming in for, isn’t the right way to go about it.

The evidence suggests that a degree of WFH is here to stay, and it’s in employers’ interests to accept it; as Clare McCartney from the CIPD has noted, “It’s likely that organisations are going to struggle to attract and keep talent if they want people in the office full-time, five days a week.”

2. New employment measures will force employers to get creative to attract talent

Early 2024 will see new measures introduced which aim to reduce net migration – but will also reduce the pool of people coming from abroad to work.

The policy change means that people coming to the UK on health and care visas will not be able to bring dependents with them (the NHS is not affected). It also increases the minimum salary threshold for employees coming to the UK on a skilled worker visa from £26,200 to £38,700, which will hit sectors including hospitality and manufacturing.

The immigration minister Robert Jenrick has accepted that we “will see a reduction in the number of people coming to work in social care from overseas” and that “we hope and expect [vacancies] will be filled by British workers”. But there are already a large number of economically inactive adults in the UK; last year’s ONS figures put it at around 9 million people, of which 1.7 million said they want a job. So employers in these sectors will need to be more creative if they want to encourage homegrown talent to fill these roles.

The Timewise view:

Flexible working is a powerful talent attraction tool, and the lack of it can make people leave; the CIPD found last year that 4 million people had changed careers due to a lack of flex. And while some of the affected sectors are location-based (and so less compatible with remote working), there are a range of other options.

So, employers who are serious about attracting UK residents back into work would be wise to think outside the box and explore the viability of arrangements such as part-time and compressed hours. We’ve made flex work on construction sites, and have been exploring a range of options with Wickes; creative thinking can make the seemingly impossible possible.

3. Expect more experimentation with the four-day week (mainly in the private sector)

January saw the news that Asda is trialling a four-day working week, as part of a drive to hold on to in-store managers. Asda is one of the biggest organisations to run this kind of trial so far, and is doing so as part of a ‘case for change’ which will also explore shorter shifts and other flexible arrangements.

Interest in the four-day week has grown at pace since the results of a six-month pilot involving 61 companies were published last year. And it’s certainly popular with employees; Gartner research noted that 63% of candidates surveyed ranked it as their top offering, and online bank Atom Bank saw a 500% increase in job applications immediately after announcing it was introducing a four-day week for its 430 staff.

However, there has also been a government backlash towards public-sector organisations who have carried out trials, with South Cambridgeshire District Council (SCDC) ordered to end theirs by the local government minister, and being issued with a ‘best value notice’ when they refused to do so.

The Timewise view:

We’re fully behind the drive to experiment with different flexible working models, and believe pilots are an excellent, lower-risk way to do so. And while we don’t agree with the Gartner analysis that 2024 is the year that the four-day week goes from radical to routine, we hope and expect to see more examples of four-day week trials in the year ahead. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the SCDC pilots (due to finish in March this year), and on whether other public sector organisations take the plunge despite the censure that SCDC received.

These are just three examples of how 2024 is likely to be a year of meaningful change in working practices; and our work to drive that change will continue. We’ve got some exciting projects to share with you, including a listening project supported by Phoenix which will explore part-time experiences.

We’re also increasing our focus on ways of working to support inclusion. One such project involves us working in partnership with Runnymede to research the relationship between flexible working and ethnicity (supported by Impact on Urban Health).

And of course, we’ll be working with more employers and sector groups to design, test and implement sustainable flexible working, both for office-based and frontline employees. How will the flexible working market look by the end of 2024? We can’t wait to see.

Published January 2024


A low angle view of curved modern architecture at 100 Liverpool Street, London, EC2.

Michelmores, an all-services law firm with 450 staff and offices in Exeter, Bristol, London and Cheltenham offers agile working (a combination of working in office and at home) to all staff, where possible in the role. Prior to the pandemic, Michelmores had many individual flexible arrangements and sought to accommodate staff requests when possible.  

During the pandemic, during which almost all of Michelmores’ staff worked from home, HR and the senior partners foresaw that they would need to re-imagine the workplace once the return-to-office started. It was difficult to know what the range of options should be and to anticipate their implications. They wanted support in developing new ways of working and to engage staff in the process. 

Expert views, practical help and future proofing… 

Michelmores came to Timewise looking for an expert view, the wider context of what was happening in the greater labour market and thoughts on how to plan ahead. Colette Stevens, HR Director at Michelmores, says: “Timewise have a real depth of understanding of all the different flexible working options, what the implications would be of pursuing them and a strong commitment to understanding Michelmores’ needs, context and ambitions. Timewise gave us a framework and process within which to explore ideas, challenge thinking and think about different options.” 

Getting to work 

Timewise convened a working group, made up of Michelmores’ Managing Partner Tim Richards, HR Director Colette Stevens and other senior partners. This team developed the firm’s Agile Working framework with Timewise’s input and guidance. Fairness sits as a core principle within this framework: the goal is to provide all employees with the opportunity to balance working from home and in the office, as agreed within their teams. The framework provides a practical structure, as to the ‘how’. By way of guiding values, the group wanted to ensure that: 

  • The office would always be worth coming to. 
  • The firm’s strong cultural cohesion was maintained. 
  • Leadership skills relevant to an agile environment would be developed. 

Team leaders were tasked with helping to identify any underlying issues and collaboratively working through the implications of agile working in detail with their teams. The agreed framework was rolled out for a year-long trial, with regular feedback from staff at all levels.  

Recognising the critical role of managers, Timewise ran bespoke training sessions to help them feel capable and confident in implementing the agile working framework for their teams. Timewise then worked closely with the project team to facilitate follow up review sessions a few months into the trial, for managers to share good practice, seek support and ask questions. 

Real impact 

The agile working approach adopted by Michelmores has been a great success, with over 80% of staff expressing satisfaction with how they can work, giving them greater choice and freedom. Set this against the wider context of the pandemic’s impact upon the legal profession. A 2021 study by Gartner of 202 corporate lawyers found 68% were ready to start looking for a new job.  

Michelmores prides itself upon enhanced talent attraction. It now offers a more flexible approach than many other law firms, and this is having an impact on its reputation as a great employer. As one recent joiner comments: “The flexibility offered was a huge factor in my decision to join Michelmores. My previous firm wanted fixed three days in the office, and my commute is long.”

It has also created the opportunity to attract candidates from a wider geographical area than before. Another new joiner says: “…being sure agile worked in practice was my first question. It meant I could join and not have to relocate.”

Michelmores continues to monitor and evolve its agile working approach, including understanding the impact on new joiners such as these and developing induction and onboarding processes to suit new ways of working. Valuing the different office sites and bringing people together in person continue to be important for the organisation as it grows. Working in an agile way encourages teams to use office time more intentionally and the Michelmores agile working approach, with the flexibility that it brings, is now firmly part of the organisational culture. 

Colette Stevens, HR Director of Michelmores, summarises: “Timewise really listened to what we were grappling with and what was important for us.  They helped us co-curate our approach to agile working and differentiate what we can offer the market.” 

Published January 2024

Miniature people with piles of coins. The concept of workers demanding a minimum wage increase.

By Sarah Dauncey, Head of Partnerships and Practice

Is part-time the forgotten flex? It certainly appears so. While hybrid and home working have been at the forefront during and since the pandemic, there’s been little, if any, focus on part-time. This is despite the fact that almost a quarter of the workforce (8 million people) work reduced hours, and that many people, particularly parents, carers and those with health issues, can only work if they can find a part-time role.

Here at Timewise, we’ve been championing part-time for almost 20 years, including by proving that part-time doesn’t mean part-committed through our much-respected Power List. But our concern that the need for, and value of, part-time work were being ignored spurred us to find out what part-time work really looks like today – and what it ought to look like in the future.

It’s official – there is no one-size-fits-all solution

Backed by the Phoenix Group, Lloyds Banking Group and Diageo, we’ve carried out a large-scale study, A Question of Time. This saw us survey 4,001 workers, and run four focus groups, so we could understand how part-time work is perceived and experienced across the labour market, and how those experiences and attitudes vary by gender, age, class, ethnicity and other demographic factors. We also included some analysis of the Labour Force Survey, the UK’s largest study on employment services.

What we learned from our new evidence is that the picture is highly complex, with big disparities between how different age groups, gender groups, ethnic groups, and income groups experience and perceive part-time. We’ve always argued that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for flexible working, and this study certainly confirms that approach. Here are some of our key findings – and why they point to ‘fluid flexibility’ as the best way forward for employers and employees alike.

  • The role of gender – and the problems this raises

    One interesting insight is the role that gender plays, not just regarding who works part-time, but also in terms of why they do so. As you might expect, the data shows that more women (76%) than men (24%) work part-time. But our analysis shows that, while women of all ages are overwhelmingly working part-time to undertake caring responsibilities, men are more likely to do so to better manage their mental or physical health. This raises a number of alarm bells, at an individual and a societal level.

    Firstly, the fact that the burden of caring continues to rest so heavily on women has huge implications, fuelling issues like the gender pay gap and pension inequality. This is reinforced by the fact that part-time workers are disproportionately more likely to be struggling financially (45% of low-income respondents work part-time, compared to 12% of those with the highest household incomes). In part, this is a feature of the lack of part-time opportunities at a senior level.

    And secondly, it shines a light on the implications of the current healthcare crisis. The fact that a noticeable proportion of people need to adjust their working hours to manage their mental and physical health is a red flag that shouldn’t be ignored, and demonstrates that flexible working has a strategic role to play in supporting the health and wellbeing of the workforce.
  • The ‘boss block’ that’s getting in the way of part-time progression

    The research also highlighted a positive shift in people’s perception of part-time working in connection with career development. Back in 2012, when we launched the Power List, 75% of people thought that having a part-time job at a senior level just wasn’t possible. But now, according to our research, only 46% of workers report that part-time limits career progression (although a high proportion are still undecided). It’s not as low as we’d like, but it’s a big step in the right direction.

    However, once again, there are real disparities of opinion between different groups. And it’s particularly concerning to find that the group who are the most likely to think part-time is a barrier to progression are managers – that is, the very group of people who act as gatekeepers to career opportunities, and who are often actively involved in job design.

    This ‘boss block’ could be a real problem in terms of widening access to part-time jobs. This is; ironic because managers are also among the most likely to say that they would consider working part-time in the future.
  • The need for organisations to be proactive about flexible working

    Another interesting finding is that almost a third of workers don’t feel comfortable about speaking to their employers about reducing their hours (and almost a quarter aren’t sure). And again, this varied significantly between different groups, with respondents with caring responsibilities reporting feeling more comfortable with having these discussions than any other group.

    This was reinforced in our focus groups, where participants highlighted the sense that people have to make the case for flexible working, instead of it being available to all. As one younger participant commented, “There’s a want versus need culture. You would need a strong excuse to have flexible working. You have to need it and not just want it.”

Our recommendations for opening up part-time

These are just some of the issues highlighted in our research; you can find more data and insights in our report. But, of course, the next question has to be, what should be done about it? If we believe that part-time is a valid working arrangement (which we, and forward-looking employers and policymakers certainly do) then how can we ensure it’s more widely available and doesn’t hinder career progression?

The short answer is: we need a more fluid approach to flexibility. One that better supports employees to manage their work / life balance, while acknowledging that one-size-fits-all doesn’t even apply to one person throughout their career, let alone to a workplace as a whole.

After all, just because someone wants to work part-time when they have a young family, it doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to increase their capacity at a later date. And just because someone has worked full-time throughout their career, it doesn’t mean they might not prefer to work part-time to ease into their retirement. So, as one of our older research participants put it:

“There needs to be a flexible approach to flexibility – a rethinking of it so that working arrangements can be adjusted more easily. (…) Jobs need to be designed more flexibly and fluidly to respond to people’s needs and changing life circumstances.”

Employers who understand this will be better able to attract staff, and from a diverse range of backgrounds, retain them, and enable them to thrive. And they can make this possible by:

  • Making a range of flexible working arrangements available to all roles, at all levels. This would make it possible for people to flex their arrangements up and down to match their needs without ruling themselves out of career development and progression. Part-time is just one of the options there needs to be more of; job shares, compressed hours, term-time hours, and annualised hours are all highly valued forms of flex that are not widely available.
  • Showcasing the possibilities of working part-time, including at senior level. It’s often said that people need to see it to be it; championing senior part-timers can help show what’s possible and encourage others to seek their own part-time career path.
  • Adopting a gender-neutral and reason-neutral approach to part-time and flexible working. And even better, being proactive about offering it, rather than waiting to be asked; ideally, it should be part of regular appraisals or review conversations. This can help the shift away from part-time being so gendered, and full-time being the default, and ensure that even more employees have the work-life balance that allows them to thrive.

There are many more recommendations in our report, including some for policymakers, which we don’t have room to include here. But they all point to one thing: if we want to get part-time and flexible working right, the answer is fluid flexibility, which gives people more choice and control throughout their working lives.

Published December 2023

The aim of A Question of Time is to capture the whole picture of part-time working in the UK, right now. It’s not a simple story.

In partnership with Opinium, we surveyed both full-time and part-time 4,001 workers and undertook focus groups to gain a deeper understanding of people’s experiences of and views on part-time working.

There’s a mixed story of blocked career paths, conflicting views – and a glimpse of hope (see our video).

Reduced hours are seen as a central way to manage life and health needs. But there are distinct cultural and economic barriers to overcome. Part-time work is perceived to limit career progression, particularly among the ‘gatekeepers’ of career success: managers.

Yet, ironically, managers are the most likely occupational group to express an interest in working part-time in the future.

In this report, we shine a spotlight onto people’s experiences and perceptions of part-time working to contribute much needed new insight into labour market inequalities. By gathering a deeper understanding of the realities of part-time work, and differing attitudes towards it, we’re better able to direct action to deliver change, improving the lives of workers by granting them greater flexibility and choice.

Reasons for working part-time

Part-time employment is prevalent in the UK, especially among women. However, there has been a slow decrease in women’s participation in part-time work, and a slight increase in men’s.

41% of people work part-time to manage either care or home related responsibilities, and 22% work part-time to better manage their mental and/or physical health. The findings highlight the gender inequalities associated with caring responsibilities, yet also draw attention to the health crisis.

Covid has changed things. People want to pursue interests beyond work. Part-time shouldn’t just be for parents.


Part-time working and career progression

Nearly half of all survey respondents believe part-time working can limit career progression, and over a third of workers consider it to be primarily for parents and carers, rising to 1 in 4 among those in the managerial occupational group.

Differences in the perception of the status of part-time work by age, ethnicity, education and occupation include:

  • While 51% of younger workers (18-35) agree that ‘part-time working limits career progression’, only 37% of workers over 50 do.
  • Asian workers are more likely to say that part-time work limits career progression than workers from white backgrounds (58% versus 45%).
  • People in managerial and professional occupations hold a more negative view of part-time working than those in routine occupations (53% versus 36%). This is significant given that many managers are the ‘gatekeepers’ of part-time and flexible options. Ironically, it’s people in this occupational group that are more likely to say that they would consider working part-time in the future.

Do workers feel empowered to change their working arrangements?

While half of the survey respondents would be happy to talk to their employer about changing their working arrangements, 30% would not be comfortable discussing reduced hours. Of the respondents, younger workers and those with temporary contracts were least comfortable discussing changing their working arrangements. However, this group were more likely to consider taking advantage of the new day one right to request flexible working in a future role, and significantly more respondents from black minority ethnic groups than white ethnic groups would do the same.

The focus groups supported these findings as well as highlighting that workers were more comfortable discussing working arrangements once more established in their role, with a build up of trust between employer and employee.

At junior level, it’s difficult to discuss flex but as you become more senior and gain trust and respect, it’s easier to pursue it. The ‘right to flex’ is seen as a reward for good work and being trusted. It’s something you earn and isn’t something you automatically have.


In conclusion

Our new findings show there’s a strong demand for part-time working, regardless of gender, occupation and income, and it has a key part to play in tackling societal challenges such as managing health and wellbeing and the increased burden of social care. There is an urgent need for joined up action by employers, policymakers and government to tackle inequalities in the part-time labour market and create more inclusive workplaces where employees can thrive.

So what can employers do today to make a difference?

  • A range of flexible working arrangements should be available to all roles, enabling people to reduce or increase their working hours if they choose to do so.
  • Showcase the possibilities of working part-time in a wide range of roles, including senior ones, to bust the myth that part-time is a barrier to progression.
  • Adopt a gender- and reason-neutral approach in defining and enabling part-time options so they’re clearly available to all and not just parents and carers.
  • Job share should be seen as a key solution to making part-time an option in senior roles and enabling career development.

Timewise is grateful to our corporate supporters for making the project possible: Diageo, Lloyds Banking Group and Phoenix Group.

Published December 2023

Watch the Timewise A Question of Time webinar below:

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

By Claire Campbell, CEO

The decision by South Cambridgeshire District Council (SCDC) to trial a four-day working week during 2023, and to extend it to include refuse workers, has created a flurry of comment – not all of it positive. Critics including the TaxPayers’ Alliance have blasted it as “simply unacceptable”, and the local government minister, Lee Rowley, backed by Michael Gove, has asked the council to “end your experiment immediately.”

So, are they right? Unsurprisingly, we don’t think so.

As we’ve noted previously the four-day working week is a hot topic in the flexible working sphere. 4-Day Week Global’s six-month UK pilot involved 61 companies, and produced encouraging results. And we know from our discussions that other organisations, including other councils, have been considering their own trials.

However, the media attention SCDC have received is likely to make some organisations wary of following suit. And that’s a shame, not least because what makes their pilot particularly interesting to those of us with a social agenda as well as a business one, is that it involves frontline employees – a group who have been largely left out of the remote working revolution, and are at risk of becoming ‘flex have-nots’ as a result.

Pilots are a low-risk way to innovate, with potentially big gains

What some of the more negative commentators appear to be missing is that SCDC aren’t just implementing this way of working on a whim; they’re piloting it and assessing the results before deciding whether to take it further.

The data from the initial trial, which involved 450 mainly desk-based workers, indicated that there are concrete benefits to be had, such as recruiting into hard-to-fill roles and reducing agency worker spend (by around £550,000 at September this year). And it is only after evaluating this data, which was independently reviewed, that SCDC decided to expand it.

And that, surely, is the point of a pilot. It allows you to take an innovative concept – which reducing people’s working hours with no change in pay certainly is – and test what works, and what doesn’t, on a small scale. As a result, you can keep the good stuff, fix any flaws, and generally refine your plans before rolling them out more widely.

It’s certainly a model we believe in here at Timewise; our Innovation Unit has carried out pilots in a range of sectors including construction, nursing, retail and teaching. And we have also shown that the changes required to make flexible working more widely available can pay for themselves in just a few years, through reduced sickness absence and improved staff retention.

Pilots can also reveal unexpected benefits – for businesses and for society

Additionally, while some outcomes might be expected – such as a four-day working week boosting retention – pilots can also reveal less predictable benefits.

For example, an employment services provider we have spoken to has found that neurodiverse jobseekers are much more comfortable coming into the office for interviews on Mondays and Fridays, when only half the staff team are in, and the office is quieter. And a retailer we have worked with, who is trialling a four-day week, has watched their deputy managers step up and develop confidence and skills on the days they are solely responsible for the store, strengthening their succession pipeline.

It’s not just the businesses who are experiencing these unexpected benefits, either. Flexible working pilots have revealed a range of positive societal outcomes, from older employees using their extra time off to look after their grandchildren, and parents enjoying admin-free quality time at the weekends, to millennials using their fifth weekday to volunteer at, or set up, community projects.

A pilot’s impact can therefore stretch way beyond the organisation to the community, in ways that may not have been factored in from the beginning, but are likely to continue once it’s over.

Let’s not cancel innovative pilots – let’s do more of them

For all of these reasons, we believe that well-researched, well-scoped pilots are a vital tool for those of us who want to change workplaces for the better. So we’ll continue to widen access to flexible options by trialling new ways of working, and sharing what we’ve learned so that others can benefit.

And we’ll keep championing those organisations who have the vision to explore, test and refine innovative solutions to their workforce challenges – and are willing to speak up and widen the debate.

Published November 2023

parents and carers in a hall watching a school play

By Amy Butterworth, Consultancy Director

It’s no secret that frontline and shift-based jobs are harder to make flexible than office-based ones. From the obvious barriers around working from home to the requirement to have a balance of skills on a shift or site, there’s just less room to manoeuvre when a frontline employee needs flexibility.

Here at Timewise, we see this as a challenge, not a barrier; we’re working with employers across the frontline, including NHS trusts, construction companies, schools and retailers, to level the flexible playing field.

But although the dial is starting to shift on access to formal flexible arrangements, most frontline staff are still missing out on something else that many office-based workers take for granted – ad-hoc flexibility.

Not all flexibility can be planned in

Sometimes, life happens in a way that requires flex at short notice; an hour here, or a morning there, in a way that can’t be planned in. It might be a child’s school assembly, or an elderly relative’s doctor’s appointment; it might be something as seemingly trivial as a tiny window in which to book tickets for a favourite band’s farewell tour.

Faced with these scenarios, most office-based workers would simply come in late, or take a bit of time out, and make it up later; but for a frontline employee, that’s not an option. Rosters are often created months in advance, and while colleagues might be willing to swap shifts or cover for each other, it’s not a given – and puts the onus on the employee to call in a favour. So as well as exploring more formal flexible arrangements, proactive employers are also looking at ways to give their frontline and shift-based staff access to this more informal, ad-hoc flexibility.

New legislation, which includes the right to ask for flexible working from day one in a new job (informally known as Day One Flex), is likely to come into play in early 2024. And while common sense suggests that this will be a popular change, and we and other campaigners have long believed that it’s necessary, there’s not really been the data to back this up – until now. As part of a substantial new programme of research to better understand workers’ attitudes towards part-time, we have partnered with Opinium to survey 4,000 workers. And among the questions around access to flexible working in general, we asked if they knew about the new legislation and if they’d take advantage of it – whether in a new role or in their current one.

Half of respondents would consider asking for flex from day one When asked whether they would consider taking advantage of the new Day One Flex rights in a new role, almost half of our 4,000 respondents (49%) said yes. Additionally, 30% said they weren’t sure – which may partly be because over two-thirds of respondents weren’t aware of the change in the rules before taking our survey. And only 21% said no.

The research also dug into the detail of who would be most likely to consider using the new rights, and this threw up some significant variations, with three determining factors emerging:

  • Ethnicity: 71% of respondents from a black ethnic background said yes, in comparison to 48% of workers from a white ethnic background.  
  • Age: Younger workers were also more likely to say yes than older workers (54% aged 18-34 versus 39% among those over 50).
  • Caring responsibilities: Parents and carers were also more likely to answer yes (53%, compared to 45% of those without such responsibilities).

What does the new legislation involve?

The government has confirmed that the right to request flexible working should be a day-one right for all employees. The legislation also:

  • Enables employees to make two flexible working requests in a 12-month period, instead of the one currently allowed.

  • Removes the requirement for employees to explain how their proposed arrangement could be implemented.

  • Requires employers to consult with the employee and consider alternative options before refusing an application.

  • Reduces the timeframe to process requests from three months to two.

Interestingly, and unusually for the flexible working arena, one area in which there isn’t a sizeable discrepancy is gender, with 51% of women answering yes compared to 48% of men.

We’re undertaking further research to deepen our understanding of the variations among different groups, and will be exploring the intersection of a number of factors, especially ethnicity, age, class and caring responsibilities. We’ll be launching our report in the autumn.

Remember – this isn’t just about new hires

While this part of the legislation focuses on the right to request being available from the first day in a new job, it’s important to remember that it won’t just affect new recruits. Currently, the right to ask only kicks in at 26 weeks, so the change would directly affect anyone who has joined more recently than that.

And while respondents were more likely to use the new rights in a new role than in a current one, our findings also show a strong interest in using them to change existing working arrangements, especially among those who are less comfortable having informal conversations about flexibility with their manager. 40% of all workers said they would consider using the new rights in an existing role, in comparison to 29% who wouldn’t. And again, this figure rises among workers who are from a black ethnic background, young (aged 18-34) or have caring responsibilities.  

It’s also worth noting that, despite all the talk about the pandemic driving a shift in flexible working, our research shows that this hasn’t been the case for the majority of workers – especially those in routine occupations. 41% of workers in managerial and professional occupations gained flexible working during the crisis and say they have maintained those arrangements, whereas only 9% of those in routine occupations said the same. So in many organisations, there is likely to be a pool of employees who will want to take advantage of the new right to request.

What does this mean for employers?

So if this is what the data is telling us, what should you do about it? It’s simple really; you need to be prepared to manage an increase in flexible working requests, and to respond to them fairly and consistently.

This means building capability within your organisation on the different types of flexibility that are available, and evaluating how they could be incorporated into different roles. It means equipping your line managers to respond to requests in a constructive way, which balances the needs of the individual with those of their team and your organisation.

It also means taking a proactive approach to ensure that open and transparent conversations about flexible working are possible for all workers, regardless of their role, and that the onus isn’t on the individual to have the confidence to request, whether formally or informally. We’ve explored seven ways that employers can get ready for Day One Flex here.

But as well as creating requirements for employers, the new legislation also creates opportunities. Yes, you need to comply with the legislation – but a much more powerful option would be to embrace it fully, and shift to a proactive approach.

One example would be to offer flexible working for all new candidates, and say so openly in your job adverts. As our previous research has shown, doing so is likely to widen the pool of candidates both numerically and from a diversity perspective, which would in turn have a positive impact on your organisational culture and employer brand. Of course, this will need to be backed up by flexible options for existing staff too.

So are you ready? The data says you need to be, and the clock is ticking; it’s time to get started. If you’re not sure how, we can help; feel free to get in touch.

Published June 2023

Group of people sitting as an audience, one person has their hand up to ask a question

By Claire Campbell, Consultancy Director

There’s no question that the four-day week is a hot topic right now. Every time we host a webinar, or meet a client, it’s one of the first things we’re asked about – and apparently, many employees are asking about it too. And as an organisation focused on how flexibility can help people thrive in their work and home lives, we’re very much on board with the concept.

But it’s becoming clearer with every conversation that there is a lot of uncertainty around the four-day week; firstly, about what it actually looks like in practice, and secondly, about the best way to implement it.  So we thought it would be helpful to share some of the questions that we’re being asked, and our suggestions for how to answer them.

Is the four-day week just a ‘free’ day off?

One of the most common questions people have about the four-day week is what it actually is – and this is important, because it’s not what many people think. Specifically, it doesn’t mean employees just get a free day off each week with no impact on the other four days. The leaders of the 4 Day Week Global campaign have worked hard to clarify this, but the misconception remains.

So if it isn’t that, what is it?

At a basic level, it’s a pattern that expects employees to do 100% of their job, in 80% of the time, for 100% of their pay. How? Essentially, by being more efficient; by improving productivity in a way that allows them to achieve the same in less time. So it’s about reducing your hours, but not your outputs.

So how do companies make it work? How can the same job be done in less time?

This is another big question – and the answer is, it depends on the organisation. If you are considering implementing the four-day week, you will need to work with your teams to explore how they can deliver the same levels of service or productivity more efficiently.

Examples that are often cited include reducing unnecessary meetings, automating certain processes and redesigning others to involve fewer people. There was also a suggestion from the UK pilot programme that some people picked up their working pace – 62% of employees who took part said it increased, with 36% saying it stayed the same. And a couple of the participant companies took strategic decisions to reduce overall workload – such as letting go of minor clients or cancelling a couple of non-core projects.

The key point is that there isn’t a one-size-fits all solution for this. Your teams will need to work collaboratively to identify where efficiencies can be made, and then design working arrangements that work within the new parameters.

That might mean everyone gets a full day off each week, or it might mean people working five shorter days, or even an annualised arrangement. The ideal scenario would be to offer your employees options on how they spread their 80% of hours across the week, so they can find a pattern that fits with the rest of their lives.

What about frontline roles? How is it possible to make these more efficient?

It’s much harder to see how the four-day week can be made to work through efficiencies within roles in which there is a really strong correlation between the hours worked and the service provided, such as patient-facing, customer-facing and contact centre roles. So organisations with these roles, who believe in the concept, may have to invest in making it happen, on the basis that this will have a positive impact over time.

That’s certainly the approach taken by Citizens Advice in Gateshead, who took part in the UK pilot. Their solution was to hire extra staff to cover the extra hours, in the hope that the investment will be offset by a reduction in recruitment, retention and sickness costs; at the time of writing, this is a work in progress.

There is also an argument that, for industries that rely on agency staff, hiring more permanent staff to allow everyone to work fewer hours for the same pay could be offset by the savings on both agency costs and sickness absence. One to watch is South Cambridgeshire District Council, who took part in the initial UK pilot, and is now trialling a four-day week for refuse loaders and drivers. This will cost £339,000 extra over two years in increased staff and new lorries, but the council believe savings will be made through using fewer agency workers, as well as rationalising bin routes to reduce wasted time.

Right now, the ‘payback’ data on frontline four-day weeks is limited, although our own research has highlighted a more general correlation between flexible working and people taking fewer sick days. But companies with some frontline staff will need to give some thought to how they make it work for their roles, to avoid exacerbating the gap between flex haves and have-nots.

How does it work with other types of flexible working, such as part-time or compressed hours?

This is another real challenge thrown up by the four-day week, and one which organisations with part-time employees are working to tackle. During a discussion about the pilot, South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Liz Watts noted that “In terms of part-time hours, this was the trickiest bit.”

One solution is to reduce the part-timers’ hours in line with the reduction for full-time staff, but it’s arguably a stretch for someone who is working less than a full week to compress their hours even further without affecting outputs. This is particularly true if their part-time job was never properly designed to match the decreased hours – we know anecdotally that many part-timers are already squeezing a full-time job into fewer days.

As with turning a five-day job into a four-day one, the answer lies in collaborative discussion and job design; exploring what efficiencies can be made and looking at how to make the role and its outputs achievable within the available time. It’s certainly not a good idea to expect the part-time or compressed hours employee to continue on the same hours for the same pay while everyone else around them is seeing their hours reduced.

Will offering the four-day week help us attract more candidates?

The short answer to this is yes – and if it’s implemented well, it’s likely to help you keep the staff you have, too. Why wouldn’t it? But there are a couple of things to be aware of here.

Firstly, if you think that offering a four-day week will help you recruit great people, you’ll need to tell candidates about it; there’s anecdotal evidence of companies not wanting to promote this working pattern in case it attracts ‘the wrong kind of candidates’. This is based on an (outdated, in our view) assumption that only slackers want to work fewer hours, and it doesn’t really make sense; you certainly won’t be able to attract candidates through the four-day week if you keep it quiet.

And secondly, if you’re recruiting at a time when you’re piloting the four-day week, you’ll need to make that clear – otherwise, if you decide to revert to a more traditional working week, you’re highly likely to lose your new recruits.

Will the benefits stick?

This is a great question – and one we don’t feel qualified to answer, yet. The recency of the four-day week pilots, and the lack of large organisations taking part, mean that the data is in its infancy, and it’s just too early to call.

It’s certainly fair to say that there’s a risk of increases in individual productivity and retention reversing if people start to slip back into old habits. But it’s equally possible that the long-term health and wellbeing impact of working fewer days could lead to sustainable and quantifiable benefits for companies.

So we hope that the organisations which are piloting and implementing the four-day week have robust tracking in place, and are willing to share the outcomes, so we can all learn what the real impact of this new working pattern is.

Published June 2023


New legislation giving employees the right to request flexible working from the first day in a new job (informally known as Day One Flex) will be in place from next year. It is a sign of huge progress for those of us who have long championed flexible working, and is set to shake up HR practices across the jobs market.

However, it’s important to reflect that the legislation is in some ways just the start of the journey. The changes it ushers in will be made tangible by the way that employers respond. And it’s becoming clear from conversations we’re having that many employers – and particularly those with frontline employees – feel they will need more support to both implement these changes and access their potential benefits.

With this in mind, we hosted a Timewise expert panel discussion to explore the Day One Flex questions that many employers are currently asking. Our speakers were:

  • Kevin Hollinrake MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Business and Trade (Minister for Enterprise, Markets and Small Business)
  • Dr Anne Sammon, Partner at Pinsent Masons
  • Louise Tait, Head of HR, OD and Talent at Wickes
  • Steve Collinson, Chief HR Officer at Zurich UK

Over 200 people attended the webinar, and before we began we sense-checked their views by asking two questions:

  • Do you feel your organisation is ready for Day One Flex?
    Yes:  41%
    No: 20%
    Maybe: 39%
  • What do you intend to do about the legislation?
    We want to actively go above and beyond: 45%
    We want to be compliant – nothing more: 18%
    Not sure – somewhere between the two: 37%


The session began with an address from Minister Hollinrake. He began by saying his 30 years of experience as an employer before becoming an MP have led him to believe that having good relationships with employees, as well as open dialogue and a considerate approach to the rest of their lives, is good for workplaces and so for employers.

He also noted that flexible working is a high priority for people who are thinking of returning to the workforce, and that with 8.7 million people of working age currently economically inactive, and business representatives desperate for skills and labour, increasing access to flexible working is a key focus of his department.

As he clarified, the change is a right to request, not a right to insist; and it is important to consider the needs of businesses and customers as well as of individuals. But the expectation is that an extra 2.2 million people will be brought into the scope of the legislation, which is an extremely positive development in today’s tight labour market.

A key aim of the legislation is to promote conversations between employers and employees, and other changes being introduced at the same time will improve this process. For example, making the employer responsible for consulting on the request before rejecting it will create space for a conversation about alternatives to take place.

Similarly, allowing two requests in a year instead of one, reducing the timescale for employers to respond to the request from three to two months, and removing the requirement for employees to set out the potential impact of their request, should all make the process easier to navigate.

Employers do still have the right to refuse a Day One Flex request. But the legislation prioritises quality conversation and consideration and aims to make the process fairer and to support best practice.

A lawyer’s view

Dr Anne Sammon, a partner at Pinsent Masons, has many years of experience working with employers on the existing legislation in this area. She explored what the changes will mean in practice, and what employers should be thinking about.

Moving the right to request from 26 weeks to the first day in a new job is good for employees for many reasons. For example, in practice, candidates who are currently working flexibly may feel nervous about having to wait for 26 weeks into a new job to find out whether they will get the flexibility they want or need, and worry that putting in a request may disadvantage them.

It also brings clarity to employers; for example, with regard to issues around indirect discrimination. For example, not considering a request for flexible working from a working mother could count as indirect discrimination; so this legislation, with its requirement that the request is considered, could avoid issues of that kind.

A big change for employers will be the reduction in the time they can take to consider a request. Employers will need to look at how long their current processes are taking, and see whether this may cause any issues once the period is shortened from three months to two. It is possible for both parties to agree to a longer consideration period, but employers must make sure they are not pressuring employees to agree to one.

It’s also worth remembering that the quality of the reason for refusing a request can make a real difference. If an employee feels that the rationale they are given is fair, they are less likely to appeal. So the hope is that the new legislation will encourage employers to explain carefully why the request doesn’t work for the business, and engage with the issues at the heart of the request. Clarity and transparency will be vital.

Finally, while the legislation allows for two requests in a year, employers should be aiming to have conversations that balance the employee’s needs with those of the business, so they can find a compromise that works for both and avoids repeated requests.

A frontline view

Louise Tait leads an HR team which has spent the last few years working out what flexible working means at Wickes, and how it can be adapted for frontline employees. She believes the changes in legislation are welcome, but noted that challenges remain in terms of how to enable line managers to have better, open and transparent conversations about flexible working outside of a formal process, and to work out how to provide flexible options for all workers, including those on the frontline.

The majority of Wickes’ 8000 employees are in operational warehouse roles or customer-facing ones. The labour market within retail is highly competitive, and this has been exacerbated by the pandemic, with many women and people aged over 50 leaving the sector. Additionally, while 40% of Wickes’ employees are women, and 40% work part-time, these numbers drop significantly as people move through the leadership layers. So flexible working is seen to be a key way to attract, retain and progress talent across the organisation.

Having successfully adopted flexible working for office workers, Wickes have been working with Timewise to explore how to implement it for store leadership teams, and are currently embarking on a new approach within distribution centres. These experiences have provided four key learnings:

  • Change mindsets for flexible working from traditional to modern. Although Wickes already had a clear diversity and inclusion strategy, of which flexible working was a key component, there was still work to do to get line managers to think about the art of the possible, and recognise that flexible working can be for everyone, not just mothers.

    This required open and honest conversations about people’s fears and challenges. For example, Wickes used their annual manager conference, attended by 500 leaders, to ask: ‘If flexible working was going to be in place for all staff from tomorrow, what would you need to do to make that happen?’ This prompted some excellent, open conversations about thinking very differently.
  • Define what flexible working really means for your organisation. It’s easy for line managers to connect with rational arguments about flexible working, but that doesn’t always help them work out what it means in practice, or encourage them to say yes rather than no.

    Wickes therefore established a clear set of principles that described what flexible working means for them – and also what it doesn’t mean. This involved a lengthy discussion at team leader and executive level to ensure that everyone was aligned.

    The definition included an understanding that Wickes could not have a one-size-fits-all solution, because different approaches are needed at a functional business unit level. It also gave senior leaders decision-making autonomy, allowing them to make decisions based on the needs of the business, their function and the individual.
  • Listen, pilot and measure (and then listen, pilot and measure again). This stopped line managers from making assumptions about what their colleagues would value from flexible working, helped them identify potential problems and gave them the confidence that it would work.

    For example, for distribution colleagues, flexibility meant having fixed shifts to help them plan more effectively, with half-hour breaks between morning and afternoon shifts so that colleagues who share care of their children could hand over to each other.

    Similarly, piloting flexible options showed that there was work to do regarding job design and routines for store managers, and that operations managers who report into store managers would need much more training. None of these would have been identified without listening to staff.

    And measuring the impact of the pilots revealed that they had no downside effects on productivity or business performance. In fact, they boosted employee engagement and also raised line managers’ confidence that they could put these measures in place and still get the balance right between the needs of the business and individuals.
  • Create tools and toolkits for line managers to help them have good conversations and make good decisions. These included clear principles, guidelines, and examples of great flexible working, flexible hiring and wellbeing conversations, as well as practical tools to help them access the right tech and make changes to routines in stores.

Aside from the obvious and proven business case, the pilot has thrown up powerful stories from colleagues who took part about the benefits that being able to work flexibly have had on their personal lives.

You can read more about how Timewise is supporting Wickes on their journey here.

A finance sector view

Zurich is known within the flexible sphere for taking a new approach to flexible hiring with transformative results. They support the new legislation around Day One Flex, but have already started having these conversations earlier in the hiring process. Steve Collinson, their UK Chief HR Officer, shared his experiences of increasing access to flexible working and hiring.

In 2017, the company was approached by the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) via the Cabinet Office, to explore whether a lack of access to specific flexible options was holding women back in their careers and contributing to the gender pay gap. The work involved using nudge psychology to deploy interventions derived from data, and then track the impact of these over time.

Using their own data, and working with psychologists and statisticians, Zurich created a hypothesis that a lack of consistent, explicit access to part-time and job share opportunities meant that fewer women were applying for promotions, or to join the firm, than might otherwise be the case.

BIT responded by asking them to switch their default to advertising all roles (internal and external) on a part-time, job share or full-time with flexibility basis, with the theory being that this would widen the pool of applicants. And the results speak for themselves: since switching their default advertising position:

  • The number of applicants to each Zurich vacancy more or less doubled
  • There was a 95% year-on-year increase in female part-time workers hired at Zurich in 2022
  • The number of part-time hires has increased fivefold since 2019
  • Around 45% more women were hired into senior roles in 2022 compared to 2019, and the number of part-time male workers tripled over the same period
  • And overall five times more female part-time workers were hired in 2022 than in 2019

The changes meant that Zurich reached a talent pool that they hadn’t previously been able to appeal to; they also discovered that people were starting to apply to them because their approach to flexibility gave a positive insight into their culture. Additionally, their gender pay gap has been reduced by 10% and they were placed in Glassdoor’s top 50 places to work in the UK.

Steve concluded by sharing four things to think about:

  • Listen to what your employees tell you they need, rather than focusing on what you think they need
  • Stop making it about cost – if people really are your greatest asset, prove it
  • Trust and open conversations are key
  • And when it comes to flexible working: if not now, when?

A few final questions and answers

We ended the session by asking attendees to reflect on what they’d heard and how it would affect their approach going forwards:

  • 64% thought managers would need training and guidance to get ready for Day One Flex
  • 70% say they would need to change their hiring practices

Our panel then answered the following questions raised during the session:

Are you able to give us any more detail on when the legislation is likely to take effect?
Minister Hollinrake replied that the legislation should take full effect in 2024. This takes into account the parliamentary process that it needs to go through to become law, and also gives businesses time to prepare.

When you talk about ‘Day One Flex’, what exactly does that mean?
In terms of an official definition, the Minister noted that his department is drafting guidance to set this out clearly, and will be able to share this in the weeks ahead. And Anne agreed that having a specific definition of what Day One Flex means will be absolutely critical.

What would you like to see this legislation deliver for businesses and employees across the UK?
Anne referenced the hope that it will provide employers with the opportunity to move beyond the Day One right and look at building conversations about flexible working into the recruitment process. This will in turn help employers market themselves as flexible and allow candidates to be open and transparent during the interviews.

Steve agreed, explaining that at Zurich managers are encouraged to have conversations about flexible working during the hiring process, so there are no surprises later on. He believes that the legislation will create an expectation that employers will have a more open mindset, and that when they are able to be explicit about being open to a conversation before an employee joins the company, it will benefit everyone.

Louise noted that Wickes’ line managers are also encouraged to have these conversations at the point of hire. She hopes that, going forward, employers will shift their mindset further than the remit of the legislation and instead ask ‘What’s the right thing to do’ in terms of having conversations as early as possible.

Minister Hollinrake concluded by noting that work has changed dramatically from the old 9-5 model, and that the culture of work needs to change accordingly. There is a lot of talent locked up in people who can’t follow a traditional working pattern, and employers should not lock them out of their workplaces.

All members of the panel agreed that this is the future of the world of work, and that we are all on the change journey together.

Next steps for employers
If this panel discussion has raised questions about how your organisation will implement the new legislation, or inspired you to start thinking about offering flexible working even before Day One, we can help. You can find out more about the support we can provide on our website, including a diagnostic review of your readiness for the legislation, training for your HR teams and line managers, and an introduction to our team at Timewise Jobs, who are experts on flexible hiring.

Watch the Timewise Day One Flex webinar below:

Published June 2023