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Nature of work has shifted after furlough

Professor Clare Kelliher

Employers now more flexible after success of ‘forced experiment’, says report

The furlough scheme brought in by the government during the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in employers becoming more open to part-time and flexible working as viable options for their business, research by Cranfield University and employers organisation the CBI has found.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, introduced in March 2020, was designed to save millions of people from unemployment and economic hardship as the pandemic took hold. It enabled organisations to reclaim up to 80 per cent of the wage costs of employees who could not work during the pandemic and was modified in July that year to allow for a part-time furlough option.

Key findings from the survey of more than 200 UK business include:

  • Before the pandemic, most part-time working resulted from employee requests, with a proactive approach to recruiting new employees considered a secondary benefit. Post-pandemic, 62pc of line managers say they are more willing to consider employee requests for part-time working.
  • Almost all line managers were more flexible about where and when their employees worked.
  • Around 60pc expect remote working and flexible working to increase over the next two years. 46pc also expect part-time working to increase.
  • Almost half believe the use of flexible furlough has helped line managers in their organisation learn how to design and manage part-time working more effectively.

Anna Leach, deputy chief economist at the CBI, said: “It is clear that the CJRS has been more than just a ‘bridge to the other side’. Both the scheme and the pandemic itself have fostered and, in some cases accelerated, large shifts in the nature of work and attitudes towards it. We know that the future of work is a key priority for our members, who are conscious of their employees’ renewed focus on work-life balance and desire for more flexibility around the location and organisation of their work. These findings show that changes in working practices, and attitudes towards them, are very much under way.”

Part-time working is an important feature of any labour market, offering greater choice in working arrangements for employees and widening participation in employment for those unable to work full time, the report says. It benefits employers, helping them to retain staff, attract new employees and to flex resource to meet changing business demands.

Pre-pandemic, data from the Office of National Statistics shows just over a quarter of UK workers worked part-time; some to meet their employer’s needs.

Professor Clare Kelliher, Professor of Work and Organisation at Cranfield School of Management, said the flexible element of the furlough scheme was effectively a ‘forced experiment’ in part-time working.

“These survey findings suggest that the practical experience of trying out part-time working has helped to overcome some of the perceived barriers for employers around its feasibility and how to implement it in practice. This is heartening, because there is evidence to suggest that more people would like to work part-time than currently do, as well as explore options for greater flexibility in the way in which they work.”

The report The Future of Flexible Working: Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic was published by Cranfield School of Management on behalf of the Economic and Social Research Council

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