By Daniel Hunter

UK employers are missing out on top talent because they do not allow workers to vary their start times or take an hour or two off at short notice, according to a new report from IPPR published.

The report shows that two thirds (64 per cent) of working women in the UK are unable to vary their start and finishing times, while a quarter (25 per cent) say they find it difficult to take one or two hours off work to attend to personal matters at short notice.

The report is the first in a series of work supported by the global JPMorgan Chase New Skills at Work initiative. The European component of the programme was announced in April alongside IPPR as lead research partner.

The new report argues that the UK has a particular problem with a lack of part-time work in highly skilled jobs for highly qualified workers. But the report also says that a lack of flexibility in full-time jobs is excluding highly qualified mothers from full-time work, many of whom are on a ‘mummy track’, working part-time in jobs that are below their skill level. It argues that simply expanding part-time work will not be enough to stop employers missing out on top talent.

The report shows that, while the proportion of female workers in the UK who can determine their own hours are comparable with other European economies, half as many UK working women (19 per cent) are able to adapt their hours, compared to women working in Sweden (41 per cent) and the Netherlands (38 per cent). The report argues that this lack of autonomy is detrimental to both employers and employees.

The report also shows that women who work part-time in the UK are seven times more likely to let care duties dictate their working hours than men working part-time. More than two-fifths (42 per cent) of women who work part-time do so primarily to take care of children or disabled adults, compared to just 6 per cent of men.

The report shows that a third of women working part-time in the UK are not happy with the amount of hours they work. A quarter (25 per cent) of women working part-time in the UK (say they want to work fewer hours, while more than one in ten (13 per cent) say they want to work more hours. IPPR’s modelling shows that the net fiscal gain to the Treasury of a five-percentage-point increase in the proportion of mothers in full-time work in the UK could be £700 million per year in extra taxes and fewer benefit payments.

Dalia Ben-Galim, IPPR Associate Director, said:

“Employers are missing out on top talent and highly qualified women are working in low-skilled jobs. That’s a missed opportunity for both employers and employees.

“How work is arranged, and employees’ level of autonomy over working hours, can have a big impact on how well people reconcile paid work with other commitments. An important indicator for flexibility is how employees’ hours are set, and who has control over this. For example, fixed starting times set by an employer may conflict with the varying and changing needs of families.

“Flexible working in its current, reduced-hours form, simply isn’t flexible enough. The prevalence of rigid scheduling, especially in low-income jobs, often means that even reduced-hours work is not sufficient for meeting the more spontaneous demands of care-giving.”