Greater workplace flexibility could help open up new employment opportunities for 1.3 million people in the UK with disabilities, caring responsibilities, and those based in rural locations, according to a new study from LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network. For those who may struggle to commute or work regular hours, the opportunity to work from home or work flexible hours has the potential to improve workforce inclusion while adding a potential £40 billion to GDP.
The research from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) was commissioned by LinkedIn to understand the potential for hybrid working to improve workforce inclusion. It highlighted an “Inclusion Gap”, showing that employers are currently missing out on hiring people who would be able to work if working conditions were adapted to meet their needs.
With research from LinkedIn finding that – for the majority (86%) of employers in the UK – the pandemic has triggered a rethink of flexible and remote working, there is a real opportunity for businesses to design new policies with inclusivity at the core to make work equitable for all.
Flexible and remote work can transform access
According to the study, flexible working could unlock employment opportunities for around 600,000 people living with disabilities – which has the potential to add £20.7bn to the UK economy. The next largest dividend – of £10.6bn – would be gained from employees from households with dependent children (around 284,000 people), followed by adult informal carers (around 306,000 people) and those based in rural locations (around 104,000 people), potentially adding £6bn and £2.9bn to the UK economy respectively.
Janine Chamberlin, UK Country Manager at LinkedIn, said: “The pandemic has instigated the greatest workplace change in a generation, prompting businesses of all types and sizes to re-evaluate how they operate. As businesses continue to adapt to this new world of work, there is a huge opportunity for them to redesign workplace policies with inclusivity at the heart. This study shows that by enabling greater flexibility, businesses can help to level the playing field and unlock new employment opportunities for around 1.3 million people in the UK.”
Nina Skero, Chief Executive at CEBR, said: “Our analysis highlights the enormous potential hybrid working arrangements hold for inclusivity in the UK labour market. The hybrid office model will, by no means, remove all the structural barriers faced by the highlighted demographic groups. Nonetheless, it does provide optimism for a more inclusive workforce. Realising this potential comes with its own challenges, however, and the onus falls on businesses to take initiative to ensure that inclusivity forms a key part of their agenda.”
LinkedIn Changemaker and disability inclusion consultant, Martyn Sibley, said: “Disabled people face many barriers in daily life. Workplace barriers are the most disabling for two reasons – because work provides us with financial independence and is also fulfilling mentally. Flexible working can help remove some of these barriers and create new employment opportunities, which is extremely positive for disabled people, employers and society as a whole. As companies consider what the future of work looks like, I’m hopeful that they will use this moment to redesign work to make it more inclusive for all.”
Steve Ingham, CEO at PageGroup, said: “Disabled individuals, which represent nearly 18% of the UK workforce, are more than capable of fulfilling many of the same jobs as able-bodied workers, yet, too often, inflexible workplace policies are a roadblock to accessing roles. The widespread move to working from home helped overcome access barriers in many cases, but companies must now challenge their hiring managers and leaders to explore options for truly flexible working. I’m proud to say that PageGroup has a dedicated team to help bridge the gap between businesses, disability charities and disabled candidates, helping to create more inclusive workplaces. We look forward to continuing to find great placements for people of all abilities – a lack of flexibility must not prevent UK businesses from employing the talent they need.”
James Taylor, Head of Strategy, Impact and Social Change, at disability equality charity, Scope, said: “For many disabled people, flexible home working is something they have been requesting for years with varying degrees of success depending on the employer. But overnight, the pandemic forced businesses to move to flexible home-working. Inclusive policies such as flexible and remote working are hugely beneficial for many disabled employees, by allowing people to work in the most effective way for them and contribute their talent, skills and insight. It’s proved to be good for many employers as well, because businesses that are flexible thrive. We have seen the positive results and urge all employers to embrace this sea change and adopt flexible working practices to support more disabled people into work.”
As part of its work to create a fairer and more equitable world of work for all, LinkedIn is raising awareness of the opportunity to make work more inclusive, and highlighting the positive impact flexibility can have on people and businesses. Last year, LinkedIn created a new approach to flexible working which trusts employees to determine where works best for them. Furthermore, LinkedIn’s Employee Resource Group ‘EnableIn’, which creates internal awareness around disability and mental health at LinkedIn, advises hiring teams and the broader business on how to create a more inclusive workplace and supports people with the tools they need.
CEBR embarked on a bespoke modelling project for LinkedIn whereby they compared the employment rates of the demographics of people with disabilities, people with dependent children, adult informal carers and people based in rural locations with equivalent employment rates for the wider population. This enabled them to calculate the ‘Inclusion Gap’ for each group, which illustrated how many more people could be in work should barriers to employment be reduced, such as the need for full-time office working. Using this gap, CEBR calculated an estimate of the potential GDP uplift if the workforce could be expanded through the inclusion of these groups.
Also referenced was LinkedIn research commissioned from YouGov, which surveyed 250+ C-level executives in the UK – from organisations with 1,000+ employees and £250+ million annual turnover – during September 2021 to understand how they are considering the future of work.