De-stigmatizing and expanding the availability of part-time work could support national employment, economic growth and worker engagement, according to new research published in the U.K. this week.
Using data derived from the country’s flexible furlough program during the pandemic, under which organizations were able to bring back employees on a part-time basis with the government subsidizing their wages, academics at Cranfield University’s School of Management found that if companies were to offer more part-time work, the broader economy could be much better off.
About a fifth of working age people in the U.K. are currently classed as economically inactive, the research found. Many of those are not employed because they have caring responsibilities, a disability or another health condition or concern. But having access to part-time work could a the two-pronged benefit: it would allow those individuals to re-enter the paid labor market in some capacity, while also ameliorating employer shortages that have blighted many industries, especially in the wake of Brexit.
“Flexible furlough was a unique experiment in part-time working and it was one that many employers and employees learnt a lot from as they put it into practice,” says Clare Kelliher, the professor who authored the report summarizing the research. “It’s vital that we don’t lose that knowledge or willingness to innovate in the workplace – employers should now be looking to build on what they learnt to attract and retain talent.”
“The world of work is going through unprecedented change with the move to hybrid working and events like the great resignation,” she added. “Part-time work offers a route for employers and employees to successfully navigate upheaval and thrive into the future.”
Britain’s economy contracted more dramatically than that of any of the Group of Seven major advanced nations in the third quarter of 2022—the most recent data available—and 2023 is shaping up to be a year of lackluster growth at best.
This week, new estimates by two leading economic think tanks also found that the post-Brexit UK economy is contending with a shortfall of more than 300,000 workers on account of free movement of labor with the EU ending.
“The government rightly wants to see the economy grow,” Kelliher said. “Investigating part-time working and encouraging its widespread use where appropriate could bring many millions of people currently excluded from work back into the workforce and boost the economy at a time when it is desperately needed.”
The report from Cranfield also found that some 40% of those who had used the flexible furlough scheme said line managers are now better at managing part-time working effectively. And just over 40% of those who had used the flexible furlough scheme said that it had made their line managers more open to part-time working.
It also showed that part-time working is still a gendered issue. Many employers consider it to be something that women—and particularly mothers of young children—are likely to request. The academics established, however, that there’s scant evidence to support the assumption that demand for part-time is particularly low in male dominated workforces.
“Employees and employers alike can see that workplace practice and culture is rapidly changing in the wake of the pandemic experience,” said Jo Swinson, the U.K.’s former Business Minister, who is now a visiting professor at Cranfield University. “One-size-fits-all working patterns no longer make sense,” she said, adding that offering part-time working is one of the important ways employers can attract and retain talented staff. “This insightful research should be read closely by everyone interested in the future of work,” said Swinson, urging employers and the government to “act on its recommendations to embrace the economic benefits that part time working can bring.”