Greater flexibility at work because of the pandemic is helping workers with a disability or long-term condition to manage their health, and it’s making employers more inclusive. All good news so far.
But too few companies mention flexible working in job adverts, which continues to hold back many workers, especially those with health issues.
We shared our research as part of a feature in the Sunday Post showing four in ten (40%) Scottish workers with a disability or long-term health condition say they’d like more flexibility specifically for physical health reasons, compared with just 16% of Scotland’s entire workforce.
When it comes to workers currently thinking of changing jobs, seven in ten (70%) who have a disability or long-term health condition say flexible working is important, while just 47% say salary is when deciding whether to apply for, or accept, a role.
For all Scottish workers seeking new roles, 64% say flexibility is important and 60% say salary is, showing how the difference in priorities is much more striking among workers with health conditions.
Yet according to our partners Timewise, just 27% of Scottish job adverts mention any form of flexible working, making it particularly hard for people who need some flexibility to manage their health to enter the workforce or progress in their career.
Pandemic silver lining
One of the silver linings from the pandemic has been more flexible working. Particularly for people with a disability or long-term condition, extra flexibility has been hugely beneficial both in terms of giving them more control over how, when and where they work and in normalising flexibility they had pre-Covid that, back then, often made them feel like the odd one out.
But there’s a barrier at the point of recruitment. While many workplaces are much more flexible in practice, they often don’t say this in job adverts.
We’re concerned that if this doesn’t change, people who need some flexibility to work and manage their health will become trapped in their current roles if they can’t find career progression opportunities with the flex they need.
Now we’re emerging from the worst of the pandemic, it’s time for employers to think about flexible working in a more considered and sustainable way. Not as a ‘bolt-on’ extra. But as a strategic thread running through every part of their business plan, including how they design jobs and recruit new staff. It will make people happier and healthier. And businesses will benefit too from being more inclusive and productive.
Universal desire for flex
It’s not just people with disabilities or long-term health conditions who want flex. A total of 84% of all Scottish workers either already have flexible working or would like it, compared with 73% pre-pandemic. Six in ten (60%) say they’ve been able to work flexibly in the last six months, compared with 46% pre-pandemic, while 49% say they’re working more flexibly than before the pandemic.
Jim McKay, head of commercial services at The Law Society Scotland, suffered a series of life-threatening illness, including cancer, six years ago. He still works full time but makes use of home working to help him manage his health.
He said: “The legacy of my illness means I can get really tired. About twice a year, I just run out of energy and spend a couple of days in bed sleeping, and then I’m ok again. Working from home once a week made the physical aspects of working easier to manage.
“Even though I’m very lucky to work for a very progressive and supportive organisation, I was one of the few who ever worked from home. Inevitably, I was aware of the odd, thoughtless comment that I must be watching Quincy in my pyjamas, or similar. Even when meant jokingly, it was a bit frustrating because I’m very focused and results-driven, and I was – and still am – very productive at home, yet I felt on a small level like I had to apologise.
“Covid has been a great leveller on that front because everyone is working from home. People have realised that productivity, engagement and communication can still be really good if you’re working remotely, and that benefits all sorts of people.”