Flexible working has recently made great strides. Last month, half of the UK workforce was working from home as a result of extraordinary social distancing measures introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is hope for many that flexible working – remote, reduced hours or compressing hours into shorter weeks – could be here to stay. This morning the Minister for Women wrote an article which mentions an innovative trial we ran last year, showing how employers can reach a wider pool of talent by boosting their offer of flexibility at work.
In today’s workplace, more and more employees are looking for one key thing from their employers: flexibility. 9 in 10 current non-workers want flexibility, which can take many forms, such as part-time working, flexible start and finish times, or working from home. Yet only 15% of jobs’ are routinely advertised with flexible working options.
While most jobs eventually become flexible – statistics from 2017 show 60% of workers end up working flexibly – a lack of flexibility at the point of hiring can put off qualified candidates from applying. And it’s particularly likely to deter women who are twice as likely to work flexibly compared to men and to be more averse to ambiguity in job adverts. Women may also avoid asking for flexibility in the first instance due to justifiable concerns about negative employer reactions.
We changed choice architecture of job advert templates
To help employers meet the demand for flexibility, BIT collaborated with Indeed – the global job site – to test a simple nudge. Funded by the Government Equalities Office as part of the Gender & Behavioural Insights Programme, we tested whether changing the way options are presented on job advert templates – the choice architecture – could make a difference.
On Indeed’s job site, employers had no easy way to indicate they were open to flexibility unless they mentioned it in the text of the advert itself. Our nudge prompted employers to make a deliberate decision about the type of job they are offering and offered them an easy way to indicate flexibility on the job advert.
Figure 1. Illustration of our intervention
Prompting choice at the moment of decision has been shown to encourage people to reflect on their preferences and take action. Moreover, greater transparency in job ads, whether related to salary negotiability, the number of applications or flexibility, can encourage jobseekers, and in particular women, to apply.
Using this insight, we ran a two-arm randomised controlled trial testing the impact of the prompt, involving more than 55,000 employers posting more than 200,000 job adverts and over 5.5 million applications from job seekers.
More recruiters advertised jobs as flexible… and flexible job ads got more applications
We found that the prompt increased the number of jobs advertised as flexible by 20% (from 34.5% up to 41.5%).This effect was mostly driven by the increased offer of flexitime (where employees can choose when they work). But the intervention increased all types of flexible working, including the number of jobs offered with a part-time option which is often the hardest category to shift.
We also found that job adverts offering flexible working attracted up to 30% more applicants. This shows the benefit to employers of offering more jobs as flexible.
If adopted on the Indeed job site alone, we estimate that this nudge would add at least 174,000 flexible jobs to the UK economy in a year.
Figure 2. Share of job adverts offering flexible working options
Figure 3. Impact of offering flexible working in job adverts on number of applicants
The full trial report is available here.
This trial was run by the Gender and Behavioural Insights (GABI) programme which is a collaboration between BIT and our funders, the Government Equalities Office. GABI builds the evidence on what works to improve gender equality in the workplace. Professor Iris Bohnet and colleagues (Harvard Kennedy School) and Assistant Professor Mike Luca (Harvard Business School) advised us on this first round of testing