The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a variety of sudden and severe challenges to many aspects of people’s lives, with work being a major one. While many faced redundancies, at rates greater than those seen in the 08-09 recession (1), and furlough, others were enabled to work from home.
The Office for National Statistics 2021 ‘Business and individual attitudes towards the future of homeworking’ report highlights that at peak numbers, 38% of the UK workforce were working from home exclusively, and 11% had both worked from home and travelled in to work within the last week (2). These numbers have been steadily decreasing since the easing of restrictions in March, however August 2021 working from home figures sit at 18% (3), partnered with job adverts featuring “homeworking” being posted at 307% of pre-pandemic levels (2), and 85% of those currently homeworking expecting to adopt a hybrid working approach in the future (2), it is safe to say the working environment has been changed significantly.
Working from home has afforded some to achieve a better work life balance, removing long commutes and allowing more time to be spent at home and with family. Other benefits include better individual performance through autonomy and time flexibility, reduced stress and absenteeism (4). While for others, the integration of home and work has presented issues. One such issue being that as the burden of unpaid care and domestic work falls largely to women (5), further strain has been put on both home and work lives. 31% of UK women say they have good work-life balance, down from 71% pre-pandemic (6), and 52% of surveyed women reported feeling overworked/burned out (6). This presents a major issue among many in the workforce who due to the blurred lines of home and work, have increased workloads, responsibilities and pressures. This issue also extends to organisations, who will suffer due to decreased performance through workforce efficiency and motivation.
While this isn’t the case for everyone, and I strongly believe that the national lockdowns and business closures that put health first were essential, many cannot continue with the current status quo, and considerations need to be made regarding the future of working arrangements.
Originally, only parents and certain carers had the statutory right to request flexible working, in 2014 this was extended to all employees with at least 26 weeks service. As set out in the legislation, the request then needs to be considered in a ‘reasonable’ manner, and if rejected, it must be for one of the reasons set out here. The Post Implementation Review of the extension highlights that only around 9% of statutory requests are rejected (7), however acknowledgement should be made to those who naturally filter in belief that they will be rejected anyway. Partnered with this, the awareness of surveyed individuals found that only 57% knew an employee with 26 weeks service had the legal right to request (7), showing lack of information or education on employee rights.
We at HappyMaven understand that HR and leadership teams have faced unprecedented challenges over the past 18 months, and will continue to do so for some time. The balancing act between employee and business needs is not any easy one, but we encourage careful consideration of individual situations as our experience shows that employee health and organisational health are far from mutually exclusive.
(1) ONS, (2021) Coronavirus and redundancies in the UK labour market: September to November 2020. Retrieved from: https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/articles/labourmarketeconomicanalysisquarterly/december2020
(2) ONS, (2021) Business and individual attitudes towards the future of homeworking, UK: April to May 2021. Retrieved from: https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/articles/businessandindividualattitudestowardsthefutureofhomeworkinguk/apriltomay2021/pdf
(3) ONS, (2021) Business insights and impact on the UK economy: 23 September 2021. Retrieved from: https://www.ons.gov.uk/businessindustryandtrade/business/businessservices/bulletins/businessinsightsandimpactontheukeconomy/23september2021#workplace
(4) ACAS, (2017) Flexibility in the workplace: implications of flexible work arrangements for individuals, teams and organisations. Retrieved from: https://www.acas.org.uk/flexibility-in-the-workplace-implications-of-flexible-work-arrangements-for-individuals-teams-and#8.-bibliography-and-sources
(5) UN Women, (2020) From insights to action: Gender equality in the wake of COVID-19. Retrieved from: https://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/publications/2020/gender-equality-in-the-wake-of-covid-19-en.pdf?la=en&vs=5142
(6) Deloitte, (2021) Pandemic takes heavy toll on working women’s wellbeing, motivation and careers. Retrieved from: https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/press-releases/articles/pandemic-takes-heavy-toll-on-working-womens-wellbeing-motivation-and-careers.html
(7) GOV, (2021) Proposals to reform flexible working regulations (The Flexible Working Regulations 2014). Retrieved from: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwjXnv6X7LDzAhUkBGMBHQL0CRAQFnoECAkQAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Fassets.publishing.service.gov.uk%2Fgovernment%2Fuploads%2Fsystem%2Fuploads%2Fattachment_data%2Ffile%2F1019912%2Fflexible-working-consultation-impact-assessment.pdf&usg=AOvVaw3tIA8zjJqriWyvCkA-3hfZ