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Part-time working can boost UK productivity, says report

INVESTMENT in part-time working can unlock a major boost to national GDP, says a new report.

Research into the flexible furlough scheme by Cranfield University’s School of Management is calling on the government and employers to invest in an expansion of part-time working.

Experts want to see a pilot scheme to capitalise on the experiences of flexible furlough, under which organisations could bring back staff on a part-time basis, and to encourage openness among employers to part-time working.

The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, as part of its rapid response to Covid-19. It found that the UK has a pool of newfound expertise in part time working due to the success of the flexible furlough scheme. With around a fifth of working age people classed as economically inactive -such as those with caring responsibilities, people with disabilities and older workers – this knowledge could be used to bring them back into the workforce.

The Part-time Working After the Pandemic report, looked at the experience of firms that used the flexible furlough option as the country exited lockdown. It found a growing demand for part-time jobs as well as increased awareness of part-time work and knowledge in how to offer it effectively. Around one in four full-time workers said they would prefer to work part-time, driven in part by the cost of living crisis as people look for extra jobs to boost their income.

But the Cranfield research also found that, post-pandemic, employers believe people want to work fewer hours to achieve a better work life balance.

Other findings from the report include:

  • 40% of those who had used the flexible furlough scheme said line managers are now better at managing part time working effectively;
  • Just over 40% of those who had used the flexible furlough scheme said that it made their line managers more open to part-time working
  • Many employerssee part-time working as something women, particularly mothers, are likely to ask for but there is little evidence to support the assumption that demand for part-time is low in male-dominated workforces;
  • Many employers are more concerned with hybrid working and increasing work from home than engaging with the issues around hours;
  • Labour shortages are driving openness to part-time working among employers.

 Lead author Clare Kelliher pictured, Professor of Work and Organisation at Cranfield University said: “Flexible furlough was a unique experiment in part-time working and it was one that many employers and employees learned a lot from as they put it into practice. It is vital that we do not lose that knowledge or willingness to innovate in the workplace. Employers should now be looking to build on what they learned to attract and retain talent.”

The world of work is going through unprecedented change with the move to hybrid working and events like the great resignation, she added. “Part-time work offers a route for employers and employees to successfully navigate upheaval and thrive into the future.

“The government rightly wants to see the economy grow. Investigating part-time working and encouraging its widespread use where appropriate could bring many millions of people currently excluded from work back into the workforce and boost the economy at a time when it is desperately needed.”

Fellow report author Dr Charlotte Gascoigne said the research confirmed the need for a formal, funded pilot covering a range of job types and industry sectors, which would allow employers to assess the costs and benefits of part-time working in different circumstances.

“Too many people are currently excluded from the workforce and the whole country suffers due to missing out on the talents of those with caring responsibilities, the experience and expertise of older workers and the skills of people with disabilities and long-term health conditions,” Dr Gascoigne added. “Part time working offers an effective route back into work for many people and a real path to growth for the government and the economy more widely.”

Jo Swinson pictured, a former government Business Minister and now Visiting Professor at Cranfield University, said: “Employees and employers alike can see that workplace practice and culture is rapidly changing in the wake of the pandemic experience. One-size-fits-all working patterns no longer make sense – offering part time working is one of the important ways employers can attract and retain talented staff.

“This insightful research should be read closely by everyone interested in the future of work. I urge employers and government to act on its recommendations to embrace the economic benefits that part time working can bring.”

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