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Has the rise in flexible working stalled the number of part time work opportunities?

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Back in 2020, the world began speculating about what the future of work would look like. Many were forecasting that a rise in flexible and remote working would bring an increase in part time roles, as well as so-called portfolio careers – short term contracts and freelancing. The theory was that as workers’ values shifted toward a healthier work life balance, they would seek to reduce their hours. It’s even something we discussed in our The Future Is Flex whitepaper.

As the conversation around flexibility gained momentum, it was natural for many to assume that part time work would rise. After all, part time vacancies and job shares had been on a steady upward trajectory for some time, with 2019 displaying record numbers in the UK. However, rather than accelerating this growth pattern, the pandemic appeared to make it stall. The number of part time workers in the UK has fallen to 814,400 in 2022, and with the current challenging economic landscape, many are choosing to either pursue a full-time role, or leave the workforce entirely.


But why are part time roles in decline?

A perfect storm of economic conditions meant that the predicted rise in workers reducing their hours never materialised. If anything, people are taking on more work. The number of people with second jobs, along with the increasingly popular side hustle’ trend, shows no sign of slowing down. A recent report by Royal London found that as many as 5.2 million workers in the UK have taken on extra jobs to keep up with the cost of living crisis.

The rise in flexibility is allowing employees to continue to work full time, even when their personal circumstances are changing. With flexible options now rife for office-based roles in particular, there are more ways than ever for employees to relieve the pressures associated with a rising cost of living. Those who would previously have shifted to part time are now able to maintain their existing contract thanks to an increase in flexible working policies, such as agile or compressed hours. The result? A dramatic reduction in demand for part time opportunities.

This, paired with the UK Government’s alleged ‘crackdown’ has meant that the growing trend of part time roles, job shares and other similar arrangements was reversed.


Will we see the return of part time’s popularity?

Well, we could certainly argue that we already are. Statista data shows that part time work is on the rise as the economy recovers from the perfect storm of Brexit & COVID (see graph below). But whilst part time vacancies are picking up, they are a far cry from their pre-pandemic levels.

If the past few years have taught us anything, it is that the world of work is still evolving. In 2022, the UK hit a record average high of 1.3 million vacancies per quarter, at the same time we saw the lowest ever recorded rate of unemployment at just 3.5%. (Source: ONS)

As we approach 2023, we’ve seen businesses start to adapt. The number of vacancies in the UK fell last quarter, as organisational development teams start to reassess which roles are essential in preparation for the rumoured recession. However, with the economy so close to full employment, recruitment remains more difficult than usual.

According to the Bank of England, the tight market is being driven by an increase in the number of ‘inactive’ people – those who are neither employed or unemployed, but instead have chosen to leave the workplace voluntarily.

Childcare demands in heterosexual relationships largely fall on the shoulders of mothers. Add to this the frankly ridiculous cost of professional childcare and many women have been forced to leave the workforce altogether in order to care for their families. Reports of a ‘flexodus’ among women are rife, with 52% of respondents stating they are considering leaving or have already left their role due to a lack of flexibility. This comes despite the fact that 80% of businesses have improved their flexible working options, and nearly two-thirds of women say they feel more comfortable requesting flexibility post-pandemic.

Whilst the number of people working full time has clearly increased in the last few years, there has been a larger decrease in the number of people working part time. Rising household and care costs have meant more people are choosing to leave the workforce entirely rather than work part time.


Could part time opportunities help to alleviate your recruitment struggles?

Considering part time hours for your next hire will certainly open up your candidate pool, but be sure to think it through thoroughly before committing. Part time work can create as many challenges for employees as it resolves. Many people end up working more than their contracted hours due to the demands of the role. Others can feel neglected or forgotten within their organisation. Providing the correct support to ensure success for part time workers is essential. According to Harvard Business Review, there are 5 key behaviours displayed by successful part-time professionals:

·        Make their work-life priorities, schedules and future plans transparent to the organisation and their colleagues

·        Share the business case for their arrangements – including the nondisruptive and positive impact it has on results

·        Establish routines to protect their time both in work and at home

·        Have support from senior management who act as champions to actively advocate for them and protect from skeptics

·        Often remind their colleagues that, depsite their part time status, they are adding value and cannot be ignored.

By creating a psychologically safe environment where part time workers are seen as equal to their full time colleagues, you could tap in to the very best talent for your business that other organisations are failing to cater for.

At We Are Adam we have long been advocates of the power of part time workers, and our leadership team would happily discuss our personal strategy for embracing flexibility, reduced hours and encouraging returning mothers in particular back into the fold. If you’d like a peek into our working culture, check out this video in which we interviewed our working mothers about how We Are Adam have empowered them to be great recruiters and mums simultaneously.

It's also worth noting that an increased demand in part time roles is likely to continue as a counter to the slowing trend for flexible working. The number of remote vacancies posted on LinkedIn are falling globally, aligning with reports that business owners are calling employees back into offices. Recently, Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk banned remote work, stating that employees must spend at least 40 hours per week in the office unless they have a specific exception such as being “physically unable to travel” or with “a critical personal obligation”. We explored whether hybrid working has had its day in this recent blog.


Ultimately, it does seem that the rise in flexible working has indeed stumped the growth of part time roles. There’s still a huge question mark around whether or not they will recover. Wider economic demands will continue to play a significant role in dictating demand for reduced hours, as employees continue to balance work and personal commitments with financial challenges.

One thing is for sure, if it works for your business, advertising part time roles could really make you stand out amongst your competitors.​

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Image from Freddie Marriage via UnSplash