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Flexible working: don’t know or don’t care

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Close the Gap, women's work patterns, change, flexi-time, part-time, the right to request regulations, impact, report, Scotland,Enabling flexible working is a critical component in closing Scotland’s gender pay gap.

The right to request flexible working was extended to all employees on 30 June 2014.

The aim was to increase the quality and availability of flexible jobs in the UK.

And all employees have the legal right to request flexible working – not just parents and carers, and this is known as ‘making a statutory application’.

Employees must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks to be eligible.

But although the employer and employee benefits of flexible working are well-established, past research has identified a number of barriers to its use.

Close the Gap‘s latest research looked at the use of formal #flexibleworking in Scotland, considered what type of employee works flexibly and how this has changed over time.

Enabling flexible working is a critical component in closing Scotland’s gender pay gap.

Their study focused on the use of formal flexible working in Scotland during the period 2010 to 2015.

The findings revealed that:

On the whole, the use of formal flexible working in Scotland has changed very little over the period of the study and there is no early evidence of an increase in its use since the extension of ‘the right to request’ on 30 June 2014;

This highlights the limitations of the current legislation which says that employees must be employed for six months before they qualify for the right to request flexible working, but it also suggests the existence of ongoing cultural resistance from employers.

There was some change in the use of the individual forms of flexible working over the period of the study.

There were increases in the use of home working and flexi-time, which are more equally used by men and women.

However there were also decreases in the use of term-time working and job sharing, which is a cause for concern given that these are much more likely to be used by women – e.g. the 93 per cent of the Scottish employees who indicated that they work term-time are women;

Part-time work continues to be much more likely to be used by female parents than male parents, with little sign of change;

This suggests the persistence of gender norms and stereotypes about men’s and women’s roles in mixed sex households, and at work, which creates barriers to mothers increasing their hours and to fathers reducing their hours.

Women are also more likely to work part-time than men regardless of parenting responsibilities, which may be because women continue to work part-time after their children reach adulthood despite no longer “needing” it;

This may create a barrier to other women with caring responsibilities who need to work part-time, particularly in female-dominated occupations where there is already a high level of part-time working.

There is a more equal gender split in employees using flexi-time but that is more likely to be used by managers and those in large organisations.

However, it is not more likely to be used by women or those with caring responsibilities and is not widely used across occupational groups.

Previous research has found that the nature of work may not always be suited to flexible working – for example where high levels of supervision are required – however it is argued that organisation-wide cultural resistance and negative line manager attitudes towards flexible working in general continue to prevent its more widespread use.

While Close the Gap’s findings clearly show the existence of a number of barriers to the increase in use of flexible working in Scotland, there are several actions that employers can take to improve flexible working opportunities, which has demonstrable business benefits.

Close the Gap recommends that employers consider the following actions:

Gather gender-disaggregated data on flexible working uptake, including requests, refusals and reasons for refusals, by department or team, where possible, and analyse this information to identify gendered patterns to flexible working across the organisation;

Map the distribution of workers who work part-time and/or flexibly across the organisation to identify whether a lack of flexibility and quality part-time work is preventing women from progressing, or from doing stereotypically male jobs;

Deliver training to all line managers with responsibility for decision-making on flexible working, including implementing the policy, managing flexible working requests and the business case for flexible working;

Build capacity in line managers to generate creative solutions to operational barriers to flexible working, and enable them to challenge the status quo int heir teams;

Advertise all jobs as being considered for part-time and/or flexible working, unless there is a strong business case not to;

Consider using the Family Friendly Working Scotland strapline “Happy to talk flexible working” when advertising jobs;

Gauge current awareness and perceptions of the organisation’s flexible working practice. This may be done through staff engagement mechanisms such as a staff survey, focus groups or through trade union engagement; and

Where awareness is low, share profiles of employees on different working patterns at different levels, for example senior employees who work part-time and employees in lower grades who do homeworking or work flexi-time.

Small to Medium Enterprises (SME) employers could use Close the Gap’s Think Business, Think Equality online self-assessment tool to see how their flexible working practice measures up, and obtain a tailored action plan.

Large employers could use Close the Gap’s Close Your Pay Gap online tool to identify how changes to their flexible working practice can reduce their gender pay gap.

To read ‘Flexible working for all?  The impact of the right to request regulations in Scotland’, click here.

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