Careers & EmploymentNews

Pandemic ‘amplified existing inequalities’ for part-time workers

Young women serving coffee

The struggles of the past 18 months have forced us to re-evaluate our working culture and consider ways of improving flexibility for workers. Unfortunately, a report from the research consultancy Timewise has found that part time employees have had the short straw, experiencing a reduction in hours and a higher rate of redundancy.

To summarise some of the most important findings, the report showed that:

  • By the end of the first lockdown, 50% of our parttime workforce had either had their hours cut or had to take a temporary break from employment
  • Full-time employees have been returning to their usual hours of employment at a faster rate than their part-time counterparts
  • Only 8% of jobs are now advertised with a part time option – a challenge for those who need to work fewer hours because of commitments such as childcare

The report also uncovered a two-tier system which allows those working in professional services to effectively blend home and office work, and to take control of their working hours – potentially working part time if needed. Those working in frontline roles such as healthcare and retail, on the other hand, were unable to take advantage of the new shift towards more flexible working, and would often experience job losses at a higher rate.

For the authors of the report, the conclusion is clear. They write that: “Part-timers with little autonomy and control over working hours, and already in precarious work, are either just about hanging on, or falling away from work.”

Their solution is what they call the vision for Fair Flexible Futures. In simple terms, its an approach that aims to secure better flexibility for all kinds of workers – not just those in executive or office-based roles that can be easily adapted.

One of their key aims is for the government to offer employees a legal right to flexible working options from day one of their employment. This would mean that employees could ask for reasonable changes to their working schedule to allow them to keep up with their other responsibilities and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

The government are also being asked to give better support to jobseekers who are in need of flexible working patterns by providing funding that has been ringfenced for that explicit purpose.

Businesses have a role to play too. When developing their policies and practices, companies should think about how they can incorporate new ways of working into their culture. This means thinking about both the practical challenges – giving every worker the tools that they need to do their job and ensuring that there is enough cover for frontline services – as well as the cultural ones, such as making sure that managers are trained to lead a more fractured team.

As an employee, the responsibility for improving working practices shouldn’t lie with you. However, you can still help to have a positive impact by speaking to your manager or your HR team about the changes that would most benefit you. Many companies are currently in the process of surveying their staff to see what options people want – so make sure you take any opportunity to have your say, and advocate for your colleagues as well as yourself.  

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