A new report is urging Scottish employers to create more flexibility for frontline workers to help recruit and retain good staff, and reduce skills shortages.
The report Flex on the Frontline by social firm Flexibility Works, states that although flexible working has increased because of the pandemic, office workers have benefited most with more remote and hybrid working options.
People working in frontline roles, such as nurses, carers, plumbers and delivery drivers, have often missed out on any flexible working, which includes more control over hours and how much work as well as location.
The study acknowledges that flexible working is more challenging in some sectors but states that “frontline workers’ expectations around flexible working are often much higher than employers’ and this is likely to cause problems – especially around recruitment and retention – if employers don’t take notice”.
Nearly six in 10 (58%) Scottish employers who couldn’t offer some form of flexible working to all staff during the pandemic said this was simply because people worked in frontline and public-facing roles and suggested they felt there was nothing more they could do.
But demand for flexible working among frontline workers is high, especially for the 35% considering changing jobs right now. Of these, almost two-thirds (64%) say flexibility is a priority when deciding whether to apply for or accept, a new role, compared with just 53% who say salary.
Nearly half (45%) of frontline workers without flexible working think their job could be done at different times to normal, and nearly a third (29%) think some parts of their job could be done at another location, suggesting there is much more scope for increasing flexibility than some employers realise.
The gap in expectations is more striking given that many industries with high numbers of frontline workers, such as health and social care and hospitality, are struggling to find the new recruits they need to fill thousands of vacancies.
Earlier this month, Public Health Scotland announced record nursing vacancies with 6,200 posts unfilled. Last year the UK hit more than a million vacancies for the first time, with the hospitality sector, covering hotels, pubs and restaurants, particularly badly affected.
Co-founder and director of Flexibility Works, Lisa Gallagher, said: “We know it’s harder to create flexibility in frontline roles. But the fact someone can’t work from home shouldn’t mean they’re written off when it comes to new ways of working. We’re urging employers to get more creative, or they’re going to lose great workers and struggle to recruit new ones.
“Frontline workers want work-life harmony just as much as office workers, and many feel their current role could be more flexible. We’d encourage employers to talk to teams about what might be possible. Managers don’t need to have all the answers, and workers are generally very sensible with suggestions.
“There are lots of relatively small things employers can also do to increase work-life harmony for frontline workers, such as allowing direct input to shift rotas, making it easier to change shifts, offering good-quality part-time roles and allowing people to use leave in different ways to cover short appointments and events. It’s not all about wholesale moves to homeworking and flexitime.”