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Flexible working: part-time, compressed hours, flexi-time, job sharing and term-time working

'An estimated 4 million people have changed careers due to a lack of flexibility', CIPD. '49% of women leaders say flexibility is one of the top three things they consider when deciding whether to join or stay with a company', LeanIn.

Employer recommendations

➖Offer flexibility at the point of hire.
45% more women were hired into senior roles at Zurich UK between January 2022 and November 2022, compared to the same period in 2019.  The rise, from 62 to 90 people across the comparable periods, correlates to Zurich becoming the first company in the UK to advertise all vacancies with the option of part-time, full-time, job share or flexible working. Read more in this article from Zurich. There is also a UK Government report which includes findings from a research project conducted by The Behaviour Insights Team into barriers experienced by part-time workers. It includes details of a field intervention with Zurich Insurance.

Timewise recommends making flexibility a normal part of the discussion, at key points in career development.
This would have a beneficial knock-on effect on problems such as the gender pay gap and inclusion. It could also improve loyalty and motivation, retention, and employee well-being. Timewise also recommends that line managers should initiate the discussion about whether an employee would prefer to work flexibly in some way. This should be a systemic part of the process – at recruitment, annual review and when looking at promotion opportunities.

➖Provide comprehensive guidelines to people managers to set part-time (and other types of flexible workers) up for success to ensure they are treated in a way that is inclusive and equitable to full-time employees. Guidelines should cover job scope, goal setting, talent assessment, promotions, career development and inclusive meetings.

Job scope:

  • involve the part-time employee in the defining of clear and specific core deliverables;
  • align complexity of the work with the level of the employee;
  • for new hires, adjust ramp up timelines to accommodate reduced working hours;
  • ensure expectations are realistic about what can be accomplished based on contractual hours;
  • adjust deadline expectations to accommodate reduced working hours.
➖Goal setting:
  • To help monitor output effectively, the performance management system should be underpinned by SMART objectives (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound). Ensure performance metrics are achievable within contractual working hours. Consider proportional or pro-rata targets compared to full-time peers based on a person's working hours.
  • With tasks and expectations clearly defined, part-time employees have the freedom to manage their time and workload within those objectives.
  • Consider setting multiple short-term goals for employees who spend a substantial amount of their time off-site working on longer-term projects. This will encourage closer and more regular communication, keeping the employee involved with the team. Meanwhile you can concentrate on measuring objectives and outcomes, rather than on when or how your people are working. Remove performance metrics that encourage a ‘facetime’ culture.
➖Before and during talent reviews:
  • use job grade/levelling guidelines.
  • ensure performance feedback focuses on how a person has achieved their objectives (working pattern is irrelevant).
  • focus on facts instead of personal opinions.
  • focus only on the skills deemed important for the role (using grade/role levelling guidelines).
  • ahead of talent reviews, share potential biases related to part-timers with HR, managers and leaders to reference ahead of and during. Encourage leaders to actively 'bias bust' within the talent review to help mitigate the bias that all humans have.
  • potential biases related to flexible and part-time workers can include proximity bias (as they are physically less present in the office or more often participating virtually compared to full-time employees) and stereotyping bias (they may be perceived or assumed to be less committed, motivated or able to take on growth roles as they work fewer hours). Both bias types may impact a part-timer employee's potential and/or performance rating.

➖Monitor the progress of flexible workers. Tracking and reporting on the performance and progression of flexible and part-time workers enables people managers, HR, Talent and D&I professionals to check that flexible workers are progressing in their careers in line with colleagues who work in a traditional, full-time way. While evidence suggests that employees who work flexibly are often more productive than their traditionally working colleagues, their performance and potential ratings may not reflect this. To mitigate for bias, especially for team members with part-time arrangements, compare their relative performance and potential scores (and time in level) with full-time colleagues, and highlight and investigate discrepancies.

➖Embrace a team-based approach to designing work, supporting managers to co-ordinate patterns of availability between team members.

➖When advertising roles, adopt an automatic yes to advertising the availability of flexible working options, so an explanation is required where a hiring manager (comply or explain). Discuss flexible working options as part of the onboarding process and accept flexible working requests by default.

➖Create communications campaigns to drive positive messages about flexible working and what drives business outcomes. For example, successful business outcomes are not driven by the number of hours worked, instead, they're the result of strong prioritisation, smart execution and an engaged team.

➖Ensure there is senior-level sponsorship for part-time working and consistency within the informal culture of the organisation.

➖In client services firms, have upfront conversations with clients about flexibility. Remind clients why a diverse team will deliver better solutions.

➖Encourage a proactive approach from people managers so flexibility is not something that’s just considered in special circumstances: make flexibility a gender-neutral matter and remove the association with women and childcare.

➖Be clear what workplace flexibility is not: for example, someone taking time off for compassionate leave or parental leave is not the same as working flexibly.

➖Collect the data and measure the success of flexible working. Use this CIPD guide 'Measuring and evaluating the impact of flexible working'.

➖Share good practices so they become mainstream rather than just in pockets of the organisation.

Further information