In the face of an unprecedented hit to the economy from the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK government introduced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) in March 2020. As working practices settle into a ‘new normal’, the use of the furlough scheme and flexible working during the pandemic has shown to impact perceptions to working practices going forward.
These impacts have likely persisted as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) recently found that part-time work is increasing for those aged 65 years and over. Part-time work also provides viable employment opportunities in the midst of the cost-of-living crisis.
During the pandemic, the scheme guaranteed a portion of wages for individuals whose employers were unable to keep them in work, preventing a large-scale rise in unemployment. In July 2020, it was amended to allow employers to bring staff back to work on a part-time basis, and for them to be furloughed for the remainder of the time.
To explore this phenomenon further, CBI Economics conducted a survey to gather insights from businesses around approaches to part-time and flexible working post COVID-19. The survey was conducted in partnership with Cranfield University’s School of Management, forming part of their broader research around the future of flexible working.
The survey revealed that both the CJRS and the forced adoption of alternative working practices fostered large shifts in the nature of work and attitudes towards it, which are expected to persist into the future – read key takeaways from the survey:
Increased openness to other forms of flexible working
Businesses in the survey sample largely coped with the onset of the pandemic by furloughing staff, rather than resorting to mass redundancies. Use of the flexible furlough scheme – which allowed employees to be furloughed part-time – was also reasonably widespread.
The survey suggested that before the pandemic, working from home was far less common than part-time working. Almost a third of respondents said that their business did not have any employees working from home, which compares to only 9% saying that none of their staff worked part-time.
Part-time working was also less prevalent among senior and managerial employees, and flexible working arrangements were more widespread within larger companies.
The data also suggested that, before the pandemic, employers took a reactive rather than proactive approach to flexible working. By far the most important factor in offering part-time working was to accommodate requests from employees.
The use of flexible working is expected to increase
However, since COVID restrictions were lifted, it’s clear that businesses expect both incidences of part-time and flexible working to increase: in our survey, almost half (46%) expected more part-time working over the next two years, while 60% expected remote working and flexibility of hours to increase.
Both employees and employers also seem more amenable to working flexibly. Over half of respondents said that the pandemic had led to more workers wanting to work fewer hours; and 45% believed that flexible furlough has enabled line managers to manage part-time working more effectively.
There also appears to have been a huge shift in perceptions towards working practices. Almost all (96%) line managers surveyed said that they had become more flexible about employees’ location of work. A similarly significant proportion (87%) of line managers said that they had become more flexible about how employees schedule their working hours.
Partly as a result of using the flexible furlough scheme, 60% of line managers also said that they were more willing to consider employees’ requests for part-time working.
For further insights into the labour market, and the impact of COVID-19 or other events affecting your business, CBI Economics, the CBI’s economic consultancy division, can develop bespoke analysis and insights for your needs.
For more information, get in touch with the CBI Economics team.