Offering flexible work can help you tap a latent talent pool

The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics tell us that 8.68 million people aged 16-64 are economically inactive in the UK, while at the same time, there are more than 900,000 vacancies across the country. 

Just 1.57 million of those economically inactive people are classified as unemployed, with the rest made up of retirees, students and, increasingly, people who can no longer work due to long-term sickness or their caring responsibilities.

The data tells that 2.6 million people are off work due to long-term illness – the highest figure since records began in 1993 – while a further 1.5 million are off work because they are looking after family or their home.

Perhaps this should be no surprise – the backlogs in the NHS are well-documented and proving stubborn to shift, particularly in the face of continuing industrial action across the health sector. The crisis in our social care sector is deepening and there is still no apparent political will to address it.

What is most concerning about these figures is that it doesn’t have to be this way – more than 600,000 of those classified as economically inactive due to long-term illness would like to go back to work if they could, while the charity Carers UK estimates that 600 people per day quit their job as they can’t manage the juggle between work and care.

The solution long-term must be to get our waiting lists down and improve the provision of care in the social care sector, but it is hard to see either of those happening any time soon.

In the meantime, there is a fantastic opportunity and untapped pool of talent to be tapped into by businesses that can help the people who want to return to work. Too often, it will be rigid conditions or working hours that don’t fit with other responsibilities which lock these people out of the workplace, and that is something that all businesses have the power to change.

Yes, some roles have requirements which can’t be flexed – if you work in a factory, as a driver or in retail for instance – but the pandemic taught us that many other roles can be flexible, teams can work remotely or part-time, and collaborative working tools can bridge the gap between being physically together.

And it’s what employees want. Research from the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development found that 71% of workers said having the option of flexible working was important to them, while 66% of companies said embracing flexibility helped them attract and retain staff.

Despite this, just 31% of job adverts in the UK offer flexible working, according to research, and addressing that is one of the reasons why the government passed a Flexible Working Act last year, giving millions of British workers the right to request more flexibility over where and when they work.

With a huge pool of potential talent that wants to work but is currently unable to, thinking about how you can embrace flexibility in your business seems like a no-brainer.

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