Low paid Scottish workers have the least flexible working, and the gap between the number of flexible workers on the lowest and highest salaries has increased in the last year, according to figures from our Flex for Life 2023 report.
Just half (51%) of all Scottish workers earning less than £20,000 a year work flexibly, compared with eight in ten (80%) workers earning more than £50,000, a difference of 29% percentage points.
The figures are from our annual in-depth analysis of flexible working in Scotland, which is supported by the Scottish Government and The Hunter Foundation. Our report is based on research with 1,011 Scottish workers, 248 Scottish employers and 216 unemployed Scottish adults looking for work and found that salary was the key differentiator on whether someone worked flexibly or not.
Our report shows that a year ago 50% of workers earning less than £20,000 worked flexibly as did 73% of workers earning more than £50,000, a smaller difference of 23 percentage points.
Pandemic flex benefits skewed towards high earners
Our director and co-founder, Nikki Slowey, said: “We’re concerned that while the pandemic has increased flexible working in Scotland overall, the benefits are skewed towards workers on higher incomes where good flexible working keeps getting better, while little changes for workers on the lowest incomes.
“Initially we thought this was because more low paid workers are in frontline roles, such as in the care, manufacturing, and hospitality sectors, where employers need to be more open-minded and creative to create flexibility. But our figures show this isn’t the case. Frontline or not, the higher earners always have significantly more flexibility than lower earners.
“Lack of trust is likely to be part of the problem because we know some employers still expect workers to ‘earn the right’ to work flexibly. But the full reasons are something we need to explore further.
“In the meantime, we’re encouraging all employers to explore greater flexible working. It’s well documented flexibility improves employee mental health and wellbeing and boosts productivity, recruitment and retention for employers. It makes good business sense for employers to explore what flexibility they could offer to all workers but especially those in the lowest paid roles.
“We know lots of people really need flexible working in order to work at all, so creating greater flexibility across the salary spectrum would help people get work at the level they’re skilled for, stay in work and progress at work. This is good for them and their families. But making jobs accessible to more people is also good for employers, especially those tackling skills shortages, and the wider Scottish economy too.”
Little difference between frontline and non-frontline roles
The new figures show a consistent gap between the number of flexible workers on the lowest (>£20k) and highest (£50k+) salaries across frontline and non-frontline roles. Frontline jobs are often done face-to-face or at a specific location, such as roles in hospitality, retail, health and social care, manufacturing and education. Non-frontline roles are often office-based.
Flex in social care – Janny’s story
Janny Dickie is a Personal Development Worker for social care support provider C-Change Scotland and she earns less than £20,000 a year. However, C-Change is an accredited Living Wage employer and Janny is able to work flexibly. She usually works part-time hours, does some work from home, has input to shift rotas and can swap shifts easily.
Janny said: “It’s really important I’m with the people I support when they’re expecting me, either in their own home, or helping them get and about seeing their friends and pursuing their hobbies. But we manage taking time off with a good ‘buddy’ system where get to know the people some of our colleagues work with, and this means we can step-in as a familiar face when needed. I also do some financial auditing to ensure the people we support’s money is kept safe, and it doesn’t matter if I do that in our office or at home. I just thought this kind of flexibility was common sense and available everywhere. I’m surprised it’s not.
“No-one comes into the care sector expecting a big salary, and we know budgets are often very tight. But some flexibility costs nothing and means I have a better work life balance and less stress. I use my non-working time to help my daughter by looking after my grandchildren, who are 12, 10 and nearly two. And I can be around for my Welsh terrier, Ruby, and take her for walks. It’s not an exaggeration to say that if I didn’t have any flexibility, I just wouldn’t be able to stay in the job.”
All forms of flex for all kinds of workers
We’re encouraging Scottish employers to consider all forms of flexible working for all kinds of workers. Much of the focus since the pandemic has been on home and hybrid working for office workers but there are many other forms of flexible working. These include part time hours, a four-day week where people work fewer hours for the same pay and compressed hours where people work a set number of hours over fewer, longer days. But flexible working can also mean much smaller changes, such as being able to slightly amend start and finish times, make ad-hoc changes for personal appointments or change shifts more easily.
Increasing flexible working supports the Scottish Government’s Fair Work agenda. Two in five Scottish workers say they need flexible working, or can’t work at all, illustrating how crucial flexible working is to enable and equalise access to jobs. Public sector employers also have a legal duty to consider whether they can create more flexibility for lower paid workers as set out in the Fairer Scotland Duty. The legislation states public sector organisations must actively consider how they can reduce inequalities caused by socio-economic disadvantage when making strategic decisions.