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Employers urged to look at more innovative ways to offer flexible working for staff

This news post is 11 months old

Demand for flexible working has never been higher

Scottish employers are being urged to create more flexibility for frontline workers, or risk further skills shortages, according to a new report published by Flexibility Works today.

The social business, which is funded and supported by the Scottish Government and the Social Innovation Partnership, says that while flexible working has increased because of the pandemic, office workers have benefited most with more remote and hybrid working options.

While people working in frontline roles, such as nurses, carers, plumbers and delivery drivers, have often missed out on any flexible working, which includes more control over hours and how much work as well as location.  

The new report, called Flex on the Frontline, acknowledges that flexible working is more challenging in some sectors. But it highlights how employer and worker expectations around flexible working are often very different, and that employers need to take notice.

Nearly six in ten (58%) Scottish employers who couldn’t offer some form of flexible working to all staff during the pandemic said this was simply because people worked in frontline and public facing roles (1) and suggests they felt there was nothing more they could do.

But demand for flexible working among frontline workers is high, especially for the 35% considering changing jobs right now. Of these, almost two thirds (64%) say flexibility is a priority when deciding whether to apply for, or accept, a new role, compared with just 53% who say salary.

While nearly half (45%) of frontline workers without flexible working think their job could be done at different times to normal, and nearly a third (29%) think some parts of their job could be done at another location, suggesting there is much more scope for increasing flexibility than some employers realise.

The gap in expectations is more striking given that many industries with high numbers of frontline workers, such as health and social care and hospitality, are struggling to find the new recruits they need to fill thousands of vacancies.

Earlier this month, Public Health Scotland announced record nursing vacancies with 6,200 posts unfilled (2). While last year the UK hit more than a million vacancies for the first time, with the hospitality sector, covering hotels, pubs and restaurants, particularly badly affected.

Lisa Gallagher, co-founder and director at Flexibility Works, said: “We know it’s harder to create flexibility in frontline roles. But the fact someone can’t work from home shouldn’t mean they’re written off when it comes to new ways of working. We’re urging employers to get more creative, or they’re going to lose great workers and struggle to recruit new ones.

“Frontline workers want work-life harmony just as much as office workers, and many feel their current role could be more flexible. We’d encourage employers to talk to teams about what might be possible. Managers don’t need to have all the answers, and workers are generally very sensible with suggestions.

“There are lots of relatively small things employers can also do to increase work-life harmony for frontline workers, such as allowing direct input to shift rotas, making it easier to change shifts, offering good quality parttime roles and allowing people to use leave in different ways to cover short appointments and events. It’s not all about wholesale moves to home working and flexitime.”

Employers that already offer flexibility to frontline workers cited many benefits in the report. Nearly half (45%) said flexible working had increased work life balance across the business, and almost four in ten (39%) said productivity had increased, while 37% said it had improved mental health and wellbeing, and 35% said it reduced sickness and absence.

Around half of Scotland’s workforce are in frontline roles (3). Of these, 53% say they’ve had access to some form of flexible working in the last six months. This is lower than the average for all Scottish workers (60%) but shows that many frontline employers are already exploring flexibility and new ways of working for staff.

Access varied across frontline sectors. Retail, construction and health offered the most flexible working, while education and social care offered the least.

Many employers expect to increase flexibility for frontline workers in the coming months, or have already done so. A third have offered more home working, while almost a quarter (23%) have offered more flexitime, and 18% have offered more part-time hours. Many employers expect to introduce more flexibility on time and location too.

Many are thinking more creatively with 48% of frontline employers saying it was likely they would give staff extra time off, such as a day off a month for wellbeing. While 45% of frontline employers said it was likely they would bring in extra staff to create bigger teams to create greater capacity and shift cover.



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Dominic Notarangelo
11 months ago

The problem will be finding flexible customers.