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Part Time Workers Feel Caught in a ‘Flexibility Trap’


3 in 4 UK part time workers feel ‘trapped’ in their jobs1, because there are too few opportunities for them to achieve promotion, or find new jobs with flexibility at their level, according to a new report published today.

The Flexibility Trap, authored by social business the Timewise Foundation, explores what happens to the career paths of talented and skilled people after they begin working part time or flexibly.

1,000 part time workers were interviewed from a range of career backgrounds, earning from £20,000 to more than £100,000 (full time equivalent).

The influence of part time and flexible workers in the economy is rising. 1 in 4 employed Britons now works 30 hrs/wk or less, with the vast majority (5.2 million) doing so by choice², whether to fit work with family or other commitments.

Yet this report shows that part time and flexible workers still face key barriers in terms of career agility, beyond securing that first flexible job.

Can’t move up…

Nearly 3 in 4 part time workers interviewed say they haven’t been promoted once since working part time (73 per cent)3, with more than a fifth (22 per cent) say they wouldn’t even expect to be.

Nearly two thirds (63 per cent) believe that promotion with their current employer might be possible, but only by increasing their hours4 – something that’s not an option for more than a third of respondents (36 per cent) who rate part time hours as ‘crucial’ in their lives, nor a straightforward choice not for the 52 per cent who state they are ‘important’ to them.

Can’t move out…

Just a minority of UK job vacancies – an estimated 3 per cent – are for part time roles offering £20,000 FTE5 or more. More than three in four respondents say this lack of good quality jobs to apply for, makes them feel trapped in their current roles (77per cent)6.

When searching for part time work, respondents say they lower their expectations of what kind of job they can expect to find, with 7 in 10 saying they ‘downgrade’ their expectations of both salary (full time equivalent) and what level of job they apply for (70 per cent)7.

More than two fifths say they have lived this process – with 41 per cent having already ‘traded down’, ie taken jobs beneath their skill and full time equivalent pay level, in return for flexibility8.

Key solution

The Timewise Foundation ( is a social business that aims people to find the flexibility they need in their careers – without having to reduce their value in the workplace.

Co-founder Karen Mattison MBE is urging future-forward businesses that are open to more flexible ways of working to say so, and is today calling for employers, large and small alike, to highlight their examples of best practice.

In a bid to prove that it is possible to have a, progressive career, on a part time basis, Karen is calling for businesses to nominate individuals for the Timewise Foundation’s 2013 Power Part Time list – a roll call of 50 of the most senior part time workers in the UK. The search for the 2013 Power Part Time list is supported by Ernst & Young.

Karen says: “Work in the UK is undergoing a fundamental shift. More than a quarter of UK workers are now part time or flexible, with most needing to fit their careers with something else in life. Yet millions are hitting a wall at key points in their careers, when they want to progress or move to a new role. Doing so, without losing their flexibility, presents a real challenge: leaving many feeling trapped in their current jobs. Britain’s part time workers need to know that there are forward thinking businesses out there, that do offer a future where flexibility is no inhibitor to success. As such, the Timewise Foundation is calling upon those pioneering companies that have already enabled key talent to progress their careers on a flexible basis, to open up and tell us about it, by nominating their most senior part time workers for the 2013 Power Part Time list.”

In addition to Karen, the judging panel will comprise of:

· Katie Bickerstaffe, the CEO of Dixons Retail plc in the UK & Ireland (who works 4 days/wk)
· Steve Varley, Chairman and UK & Ireland Managing Partner of EY
· Lynn Rattigan, Deputy Chief Operating Officer of EY, UK & Ireland
· Andrew Saunders, the deputy editor of Management Today magazine

Nominations open from today (8 July 2013) and close in September.

A form can be obtained by visiting:, calling 0207 633 4553 or emailing

Steve Varley, Chairman and UK & Ireland Managing Partner of EY comments: “Having a more flexible people resource creates a more agile workplace. It is time that businesses stopped noticing work hours, measuring productivity in presenteeism, and instead focused on outputs. In a fast paced global economy, when business large and small are working with clients and colleagues across borders in different time zones, flexible working can provide a real competitive advantage. But it also requires a high-trust workplace environment, leadership from the top and individual accountability. I’m really proud to be able to support Timewise to help champion this message, and am looking forward to meeting the fantastic role models who prove on a daily basis that reduced hours never mean reduced commitment.”

For further information please contact Jo Burkill

t: 0207 633 4553 / m: 07970 655 151 / e:

1 Research was conducted by independent research agency Vanson Bourne in May 2013, on behalf of the Timewise Foundation, surveying 1,000 nationally representative £20,000+FTE workers, based in the UK, who all work 30 hrs/wk or less. 77 per cent (more than 3 in 4) said they felt ‘trapped’ in their current part time jobs.

2 Data is taken from the labour market data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on June 12 2013, available via 8,064,000 people work part time hours in the UK, accounting for 27 per cent, or 1 in 4, of the UK’s 29,756,000 total workers. 5,214,000 state that they work such hours because they ‘did not want full time’

3 Respondents were asked “Since working part time hours, have you been promoted?”Their answers were:
No, never – 73 per cent
Yes ,once – 17 per cent
Yes, twice – 8 per cent
Yes three times – 2 per cent
Yes, four times or more – 1 per cent

4 37 per cent did not believe they would have to increase their hours, in order to be considered for promotion

5 According to research published by Women Like Us and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in March 2012: Building a Sustainable Quality Part Time Recruitment Market

6 77 per cent (or over 3 in 4) part time workers said they felt ‘trapped’ in their current part time jobs

7 70 per cent of respondents said that they would downgrade their expectations of salary and seniority level, if they were looking for a brand new part time job now. Respondents lower their (full time equivalent) salary expectations by an average of £6,730, with people with children expecting to take £436 less homes, than those without.

8 Respondents were asked: “Have you ever taken a job that is below your skill and pay level, because you needed flexible/part time hours?” 41 per cent answered “yes”, 59 per cent answered “no”.


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