Most managers believe flexible working helps productivity, UK study shows

Managers have embraced hybrid working but many still think long hours are needed for career progress

Managers no longer stigmatise flexible working, believing it results in improved productivity – though long hours are still seen as essential for career progress, research suggests.

Managers are more positive about flexible working than they have ever been, with three-quarters believing that it increases productivity and 62.5% considering that it boosts motivation, according to a survey of 597 managers across the UK by the Equal Parenting Project, which is jointly run by the University of Birmingham and the University of York.

However, the authors noted that they are more positive about some forms of flexible work – especially flexitime and home working, which became more common during the pandemic – than others, including those that particularly benefit parents, such as job shares, part-time work and compressed hours.

The authors, Holly Birkett at Birmingham Business School and Sarah Forbes at the University of York, said employers can address this disparity by promoting all types of flexible working and altering performance evaluation to “break down the flexible working stigma” that was prevalent before the pandemic.

They urge policymakers to require employers to report on flexible working practices as part of their gender pay gap obligations, as well as making flexible working the default for employers and requiring them to make a case for why jobs cannot be performed flexibly.

Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader and shadow secretary of state for the future of work, said the report showed that “the consensus is in, and flexible working is here to stay”.

She said Labour’s new deal for working people would force employers to accommodate requests for flexible working, including part-time, compressed and term-time hours, as far as is reasonable.

“The Conservatives, however, continue to drag their feet on making flexible working the default, with a mealy-mouthed offer that puts the onus on workers to ask for this right,” she said.

Maria Miller, the Conservative MP and former chair of the women and equalities select committee, welcomed the recent announcement that employees would be legally entitled to request flexible working from day one, but agreed that ministers should widen their efforts.

“If work is to become an equal playing field for both men and women, we need to give women all the options to make that happen,” she said.

The research established that while there is less emphasis on presenteeism than before the pandemic, progress made on the long hours working culture during the pandemic – in which the number of managers who said employees needed to work long hours to progress fell from 43.3% in 2019 to 35.2% in 2021 – has been reversed, with the figure rising back up to 41.9%.

The research also showed the extent to which hybrid working in the office and at home has become widespread. In 2022, 69.3% of managers reported that their organisation did not expect employees to be back in the office more than four days a week, up from 59% in 2021. Meanwhile, the percentage of managers expecting their employees to be in the office just one day a week has nearly doubled, from 10.5% in 2021 to 20.4% in 2022.

Birkett said: “Managers are generally much more positive about flexible working than pre-pandemic and believe their organisations are more likely to support flexible working requests in this future.”

Forbes added: “This is really positive news for parents, carers and those who want to work flexibly for wellbeing reasons. This change is likely to be particularly helpful for women, who have suffered from a lack of good quality well-paid flexible working over the years.”

The research found that organisations are increasingly advertising new jobs as available for flexible working and that this is supported by managers, who believe it should be included in advertisements to make them more attractive to potential applicants.

However, the authors also found that most flexible working is done on an informal basis – 45% for working from home and 36.5% for flexitime. They warned that this is “precarious”, since if the line manager is replaced it may mean the employee is no longer able to work in this way.

The research further identified the concerning emergence of surveillance culture. Nearly a third of managers said that their employers used surveillance software and/or monitored emails – yet four-fifths felt this implied that employers do not trust their employees, and nearly two-thirds conceded that the use of surveillance methods at work increased their own stress levels.

• This article was amended on 9 January 2023 to clarify that the Equal Parenting Project is jointly run by the University of York and the University of Birmingham and on 10 January 2023 to clarify that Maria Miller is no longer chair of the women and equalities select committee.


Rachel Hall

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Labour says it will make flexible working the ‘new normal’
Angela Rayner announces policy to make sure ‘work fits around people’s lives instead of dictating lives’

Heather Stewart

27, Jul, 2021 @9:30 PM

Article image
UK workers need right to disconnect amid ‘overtime epidemic’, says report
Research by thinktank finds women’s mental health particularly affected as home working increases

Rowena Mason Deputy political editor

15, Aug, 2021 @9:00 PM

Article image
Sharp rise in number of Britons leaving work to look after family
Labour says people are being ‘priced out and shut out of work’ at a time of record employment vacancies

Alexandra Topping

19, Oct, 2022 @5:00 AM

Article image
One in six UK public procurement contracts had tax haven link, study finds
Exclusive: Labour vows to end ‘Tory procurement racket’ and reward firms that pay taxes responsibly

Pippa Crerar Political editor

24, Sep, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
Horrible boss? UK workers to reveal all in job quality survey
Poll comes amid concern record employment masks poor-quality, insecure jobs

Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent

06, Sep, 2018 @11:01 PM

Article image
Minister calls for wider flexible working rights

Work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper likely to meet opposition from business secretary Lord Mandelson

Allegra Stratton, political correspondent

29, Jan, 2010 @1:58 AM

Article image
Labour sets out plan to link minimum wage to cost of living
Exclusive: earnings of lowest-paid could rise by £832; lower rates for 18- to 22-year-olds to be scrapped

Pippa Crerar Political editor

19, Aug, 2022 @3:00 PM

Article image
UK workers going into office less than 1.5 days a week, data shows
Firms need to find smarter ways of working that will fit in with how people want to live, says consultancy

Mark Sweney

15, Aug, 2022 @12:54 PM

Article image
Ministers face pressure to explain PPE Medpro contracts decision
Labour to ask how Michelle Mone-linked firm was assessed as fit to agree deal worth more than £200m

Pippa Crerar Political editor

27, Nov, 2022 @6:59 PM

Article image
Labour demands clarity on plans to make working from home a ‘default right’
Downing Street confirms report from leaked document but says there would be no legal right to work from home

Heather Stewart and Jasper Jolly

17, Jun, 2021 @1:40 PM