Promoting an Inclusive Workplace: Flexible Working
Developing the Empowered Employers campaign has involved collating and understanding data from various sources. The research has been compiled on the campaign website to offer insights into the experiences disabled people, neurodivergent people and people with mental health conditions have with employment and employers. Data is ever-changing and so in this mini blogpost series, we look at the latest key facts and figures, unpack possible factors impacting change, and include links to resources and further reading.
Flexibility and Choice
Many disabled people, neurodivergent people and people with mental health conditions want to work but research shows that opportunities are not always available. In the State of Gloucestershire survey carried out by Barnwood Trust, respondents were asked if paid work matters to them. 50% of respondents who told us paid work matters them couldn’t do the type of paid work they want to do. Only 1 in 4 said they can do the type of paid work they want to do (1).
At the heart of these statistics is choice and opportunity. There is a gap between what disabled people and the opportunities available to them.
The same survey highlighted key barriers to these opportunities including health (e.g. needing a lot of rest), a lack of confidence, difficulty traveling to places, the risk to their benefits and the need for others to help. Taken together, these barriers reflect the social model of disability in which people are not disabled by their impairment or health condition but by barriers within society which mean that opportunities to do meaningful work are not accessible or available.
Looking at other national research also shows a range of barriers to employment being experienced by disabled people. A large-scale study by Leonard Cheshire, for example, found almost 1 in 5 disabled people reporting having had a job offer withdrawn because of their disability. Similarly, 3 in 10 felt not to have been taken seriously as a candidate due to their disability (2). We also know that many disabled people, especially those with less visible impairments, are disproportionately less likely to access support schemes such as Access to Work that could make the workplace more accessible to them (without any cost to their employer) (3).
Closing the Opportunities Gap
The State of Gloucestershire research and Empowered Employers campaign highlight that in work, as in many other areas of their lives, disabled people, neurodivergent people and people with mental health conditions are facing an opportunities gap.
However, there are ways to close this gap.
When asked in the survey what, if anything, would help people to access paid work the overwhelming suggestion was flexibility.
Flexible working has been one of the central messages of the campaign so far. Flexible working is something that can benefit employees whether or not you are a disabled person. Flexible working allows employees to match their work patterns to their needs.
However, there is work to do on this front. Timewise, a social enterprise promoting flexible working practices, do an annual flexible working index. In 2022, they found 30% of jobs to offer flexible working (even after the evolution of homeworking catalysed by the Covid-19 pandemic). Their findings, however, show that around 90% of people want to work flexibly (4).
Flexible working comes in many forms:
- Part-time working
- Jobs offering homeworking
- Flexible start and finish times
- Flexible shift patterns
- Remote working
- Term-time working
- The option to job share
- ‘Agile working’ – a type of full-time working in which employers are open to flexible working patterns by arrangement with an employee (5).
Building some of these practices into the everyday working culture of an organisation goes some way to creating an inclusive workplaces. The Timewise recommendations suggest that for employers, the offer of flexible working is a win-win situation at a time when recruitment is stagnating and people are increasingly unable to work full-time due to their health or caring responsibilities. They argue the offer flexible working has universal value, will help employers attract a wider pool of talent and bring older workers with more experience back not the workplace. Their recommendations include:
- Consider the risk of inaction on flexible hiring
- Consider what flexibility is possible for all roles to improve parity
- Shift the company mindset on flexible hiring from ‘why should we?’, to ‘how can we?’
- Be proactive and transparent during the recruitment process – be clear about which forms of flexible working are possible for the role in job adverts.
- Pilot flexible hiring by trialling in one department or one type of role to give other departments the confidence to follow suit.
This mini blogpost series has looked at what the data tells us about inclusive employment, barriers experienced, and, importantly, what can be done by employers (and the advantages of doing so). Disabled people are less likely to be in employment, those who are receive less pay than their non-disabled peers, and those who want to work are often restricted in the opportunities made available. However, through better engagement with disabled people about what they want or need, more information about what is available (such as Access to Work) and the provision of flexible working and reasonable adjustments that promote choice, it will be possible to close the disability employment, pay and opportunities gaps.
Read more about Statistics on Work & Employment.
Dan Jacques, Lead Researcher at Barnwood Trust
(1) Barnwood Trust (2022) State of Gloucestershire: Employment report available at: http://www.barnwoodtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/Employment-Booklet-DIGITAL.pdf
(2) Leonard Cheshire (2019) Reimagining the Workplace report available at: https://www.leonardcheshire.org/sites/default/files/2020-02/reimagining-the-workplace-disability-inclusive-employment.pdf
(3) Equalities and Human Rights Commission (2017) Being Disabled in Britain: A journey less equal report available at: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/being-disabled-in-britain.pdf
(4) Timewise (2023) The Timewise Flexible Jobs Index 2022 report available at: https://timewise.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/Timewise-Flexible-Jobs-Index-2022.pdf
(5) Timewise (2022) The Timewise Flexible Jobs Index 2021 report available at: https://timewise.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Timewise-Flexible-Jobs-Index-2021.pdf