Employers are missing out on top talent because of a lack of flexibility in the way jobs are structured, according to a think tank report.
The IPPR said simply expanding part-time work will not be enough to solve the problem. Instead, employers should allow workers to vary their start and finish times and take small amounts of time off at short notice. The suggestion follows its examination of working practices and the flexibility offered to employees across seven European countries.
The report, Women and Flexible Working, shows that two thirds (64%) of working women in the UK are unable to vary their start and finishing times, while a quarter (25%) say they find it difficult to take one or two hours off work to attend to personal matters at short notice.
“Demographic, societal and economic developments across Europe have meant that the standard way in which work continues to be scheduled lags behind the changing lifestyles, needs and expectations of a modern society,” says the report.
It argues that the UK has a particular problem with a lack of high-skilled part-time work and that, combined with a lack of flexibility in full-time jobs, is excluding highly-qualified mothers from work or forcing them to work below their skill level.
The prevalence of part-time work as the main flexible working option may be contributing to “unnecessarily low average working hours among mothers during the early stages of parenthood, and mothers’ average working hours remaining low during subsequent life-phases,” it said.
There is considerable demand for a larger range of flexible working options among working women. “Our research suggests that giving employees more control over the scheduling of their working hours would be particularly popular.”
The authors point to the Netherlands and Sweden, where 38% and 41% of women respectively have the ability to adapt their hours, compared with only 19% in the UK. It is the lack of autonomy that the IPPR says is detrimental to employers and employees.
Dalia Ben-Galim, IPPR associate director, said: “How work is arranged, and employees’ level of autonomy over working hours, can have a big impact on how well people reconcile paid work with other commitments. An important indicator for flexibility is how employees’ hours are set, and who has control over this. For example, fixed starting times set by an employer may conflict with the varying and changing needs of families.
“Flexible working in its current, reduced-hours form, simply isn’t flexible enough. The prevalence of rigid scheduling, especially in low-income jobs, often means that even reduced-hours work is not sufficient for meeting the more spontaneous demands of care-giving.”
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