Skip to main content

25 September 2019

Flexible working in the civil service can damage career progression

35% of part-time women felt that flexible working had had a negative impact on their career progression and performance ratings

Flexible working

New research from the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London has found that there are large barriers to flexible working in the civil service.

The research, commissioned by the FDA, found that more than 35% of part-time women felt that flexible working had had a negative impact on their career progression and performance ratings, with over 35% of part-time women also feeling they had to put in more hours to show their commitment.

Nearly 50% of respondents felt that working part-time means their work is more likely to spill over into other areas of their life, while almost 20% of respondents who felt that flexible working was not encouraged at their grade were working an additional 10 or more hours a week.

The research was based on a survey of 1,600 civil servants.1

Laura Jones, Research Associate at the Global Institute for Women's Leadership, said:

"Expanding access to flexible work needs to go alongside efforts to reform workplace culture and workload allocation. As long as career success is linked to excessively long working hours then there will be hesitancy among some civil servants to make use of flexible working, and a risk that those who do, primarily women, will be penalised."

In order to tackle these barriers and make flexible working work for everyone, the FDA is calling on all employers to:

  • Beat the stigma around flexible working.
  • Introduce a flexible working passport, allowing people to take working patterns to new roles.
  • Ensure evaluations for flexible workers – no more full-time work in part-time hours.
  • Actively support and develop staff who work flexibly, to build a pipeline of leaders who feel able to do the same.

FDA Women’s Officer Victoria Jones said:

"While we support the civil service’s ambition to become the most inclusive employer by 2020, the workplace culture within the civil service doesn’t always support staff working flexibly. Flexible working, for all staff, is the cornerstone of building a diverse workplace, where everyone is able to contribute without sacrificing their personal lives.

"Aside from the worrying data, there were two main underlying themes of the research. Firstly, a workplace can’t truly embrace flexible working if the culture isn’t there to support it. Our members don’t need to be chained to a desk to draft briefings but there’s still a misconception that if they’re not visible in the office, they can’t possibly be delivering.

"Secondly, if workloads aren’t adjusted then flexible working is destined to fail. Many of our members told us they were working part-time, but picking up the remaining hours of a full-time role on their non-working days.

"We know that flexible working not only allows parents to pick up their children from school, but also allows carers to attend hospital appointments and others to proactively manage their mental health. If we want a country that works for everyone, we need the people working in the civil service to reflect the society it serves: individuals who will bring their own experiences and insight to policy creation, and who will make sure the whole UK public is represented in the decision-making process – not just those who work fixed hours."


1. The research was based on 1,599 responses to a survey of the FDA’s 18,000 members working across the public sector. While this was a self-selecting sample, subsequent comparison with ONS statistics found that the sample is broadly representative of the wider civil service with respect to gender, the gender composition of each grade, and full-time/part-time status. However, it under-represents part-timers in senior-grade roles, and in line with FDA membership, is weighted towards those in senior-grade roles and Grades 6 and 7 compared to the wider civil service.