The appeal of hybrid working is greater for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, suggesting an increase in employers offering flexible working could help improve social mobility in the UK.
According to accountancy and business advisory firm BDO, which surveyed 1,000 people aged between 16-21, the option of mixing remote and office-based work – often known as hybrid or agile working – appeals more to young people from low socio-economic backgrounds than those who aren’t.
More than a third (37 per cent) of those surveyed and considered to be from a disadvantaged background believe that hybrid working would give them a better work-life balance, compared with just over a quarter (27 per cent) of young people from other backgrounds.
When asked about the additional benefits hybrid working could bring, those from lower socio-economic backgrounds scored the ability to save money on commuting more highly than 16-21-year-olds from non-disadvantaged backgrounds. A quarter (23 per cent) stated it would also better support their care responsibilities including looking after children or other dependents.
Research by the Social Mobility Commission last year found that those from more affluent upbringings are more likely to move to study or work, meaning better-paid jobs are often less accessible to those from poorer backgrounds.
However, with many citing less reliance on ‘unreliable and expensive travel’ five days a week, 26 per cent of the young people from disadvantaged backgrounds said hybrid working would make them more likely to apply for jobs farther away from home.
Sarah Hillary, partner at BDO, said: “Some of the benefits of hybrid working have been widely discussed, but the appeal to those from disadvantaged backgrounds and the potential impact on social mobility should not be overlooked.
“If changing working practices can help reach young people in social mobility cold spots, businesses and government should be seizing the opportunity to improve access and opportunity for young people in these areas.”
Although the government’s ‘work from home if you can’’ advice in England was lifted in July, many employers are taking proactive steps and making the shift to permanent hybrid working where they can.
In a separate survey from BDO, 44 per cent of the leaders of medium-sized businesses (turnover £10 million to £300 million) across the UK have introduced, or plan to introduce, permanent hybrid working, with 38 per cent believing that hybrid and flexible working will improve social mobility.
Young people see this as an important factor in the decisions they make about future employers. Almost a third (32 per cent) of those surveyed by BDO from lower socio-economic backgrounds have said they would be put off working for a business that doesn’t offer hybrid or flexible working. This compares with less than a quarter of those from other backgrounds (23 per cent).
Hillary said: “While hybrid working will not solve the soaring issue of social mobility, it does provide businesses with some practical, now well-rehearsed, working practices to adopt to better meet the needs of young people today.
“Business leaders must recognise that encouraging people from disadvantaged backgrounds to join their company is just the start; shifting how the employer then helps them to succeed is essential. Success in a hybrid world will be different for all, meaning individual conversations, support and trust need to rise to the top of any manager’s ‘to do’ list in the next few months.”
She added: “The post-pandemic recovery provides an opportunity to ‘build back fairer’ and develop policies that will create a more inclusive and mobile society. We should urge the government to put as much focus on investment in people as it does on infrastructure as part of its levelling-up agenda.”