Not retiring: why flexi is a lifeline for many

For many people flexible working of all kinds makes working possible. At a time of benefits changes and longer working lives this is vital.


I’ve been following up on our survey this week and talking to lots of people about their experiences in advance of publication of the figures. What strikes me in particular is how vital flexible working is for so many people.

It’s not just a nice to have. And with the media pushing for more and more days back in the office and much of it only focusing on the supposed negatives, it’s vital that we highlight not just the positives, but the fact that, for significant numbers of people it makes all the difference.

One woman I spoke to said it was “a lifeline”. She has caring responsibilities and arthritis. She finds commuting exhausting and says if she was asked to go back to the office more days or full time she would have to resign and find a lower paid, more local job.

Another who had been forced to leave her job due again to arthritis was living on benefits and needed to get back to work. But she said that work needs to be something she can do from home and that can flex around her chronic pain. She can put in the hours and get the job done to a deadline, but she needs to be able to do things at her own pace.

Many will be in a similar position as the crumbling care infrastructure demands that more and more people take on caring responsibilities while they are working and as more and more people are waiting longer and longer for healthcare.

We know that many have dropped out of work or reduced their hours because of health issues. Cutting their hours means reducing their pension contributions, with a knock-on impact on their retirement income or their ability to retire.

Meanwhile, many who are out of work are struggling on reduced benefits and tighter sanctions regimes. They need to work in order to put on the heating or eat properly in order that their health doesn’t worsen. Everything is linked.

Hearing everyone’s experiences

Many who I talk to recognise that there are downsides for some to things like remote or hybrid working, particularly those who don’t have a good work space at home or who feel they learn better through observation and in-person interaction than courses. Yet they also argue that their voices are not being heard in the current push back to the office.

At the moment remote working [and this usually extends to hybrid even though the demand for it is high and it can offer the best of both worlds] tends to be held responsible for almost every ill – from children dropping out of school to productivity problems, often with little evidence and amid a climate where so many things that are necessary for a better economic performance are lacking, in particular a proper care infrastructure.

Yesterday there was a rare positive story about flexible working. A US study found that people over 45 or with a risk of heart disease can increase their heart health through changing their work patterns to give them a greater work life balance. The report said a better work-life balance was so beneficial to health that some employees who work flexibly ended up with heart health equivalent to what they had 10 years earlier. Amid longer working lives that matters for the economy, but most of all it also matters for individuals and their families.

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