Voices from the pandemic: Part-time workers and job seekers

What you need to know:

  • Before the pandemic, part-time workers were already often forced into unsuitable and insecure jobs that did not provide appropriate pay, working arrangements, or a sense of value.
  • The pandemic has worsened these difficulties, with even fewer part-time jobs available causing part-time workers to accept even less suitable working arrangements, and may ultimately force them out of the labour market entirely.
  • Stronger worker's rights for part-time workers are needed, bolstering their ability to find suitable work and encouraging managers to acknowledge the benefits of part-time workers and design opportunities accordingly.

This report from Timewise, supported by Trust for London, sets out to understand the impact of the pandemic on part-time workers. It builds on the quantative data from the first Fair Flexible Futures report, using qualitative research to explore the lived experiences of those who have been directly affected.

Since March 2020, a workplace revolution has taken place. Pandemic-enforced lockdowns have triggered a huge uplift in remote working, which appears to be here for the long term; at the time of writing, large numbers of employees who previously worked in offices remain home-based, and many companies are offering hybrid working arrangements for their teams.

But while much has been written about the move towards location-based flexible working – that is, people working from home or in other off-site locations – there has been little, if any, attention given to timebased flexible working, particularly part-time. Put simply, the voices of people who cannot work full-time, and their experiences during and after the pandemic, are not being heard.

This report sets out to remedy this omission; to listen to the experiences of part-time workers and job seekers, and understand how the pandemic has impacted them. It builds on the quantative data from Timewise's first Fair Flexible Futures report, providing real-life insights that will help employers, policymakers and labour market intermediaries drive more inclusive policy and practice.

Key findings

1. Most participants experienced challenges with working part-time even before the pandemic. These included one or more of the following:
  • Having to take a job which did not fully utilise their skills or where the pay was not commensurate with their skill levels.
  • Feeling themselves to be less valued by their organisation than their full-time colleagues.
  • Having to accept flexible work arrangements which were felt to benefit the organisation more than themselves.
  • Not being able to secure flexible work that met their own needs, either because their employer had denied their request, or they had been reluctant to ask.
2. The pandemic has amplified the difficulties faced by those who need to work part-time, in the following ways:
  • Job seeking is reportedly tougher than ever, with fewer jobs being advertised as part-time – especially higher-paid and skilled roles – and more competition for available jobs.
  • This serves as an even greater deterrent to job seekers asking about part-time options where it hasn’t been explicitly mentioned in the vacancy.
  • Additionally, a number of participants’ experiences imply higher levels of precarity, and greater risk of poor treatment from employers, for part-time workers during the pandemic.
  • The consequence of this is that many may be forced out of their current employment or even out of the labour market, and the value of their skills lost.
3. In order to effect positive change, participants believe that:
  • Those making hiring decisions need to shift their mindset to acknowledge the benefits that part-time working can bring for both employers and employees.
  • This will require greater managerial understanding and capabilities with respect to part-time job design.
  • A more receptive environment for part-time working should be created by strengthening employee rights, such as changing the law to allow candidates to ask for flexible working from day one (rather waiting until after 26 weeks).

November 2021