Part-time hires double after Zurich launches flexible working initiative

Zurich HQ at Kimmerfields

Demand for part-time jobs at Swindon-headquartered insurance giant Zurich have doubled since the company launched a new flexible work programme two years ago.

Demand from women for part-time roles has been especially high – soaring by 83 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels.

But despite initiative being gender neutral, uptake from men has remained at just two percent.

And as company’s struggle to attract talent in a competitive market, Zurich revealed applications have increased by 66 percent since the initiative was introduced in spring 2019.

It was in March of that year that Zurich introduced a first-of-its-kind initiative to advertise all new vacancies as a potential part-time, job share or full-time opportunity – alongside flexible working.

This was coupled with the use of gender-neutral language in every job advertisement.

Over the past twelve months alone, nearly one in four new female hires (23 per cent) has been appointed on a part-time basis, up from just 10 per cent in 2019.

Nationally, half of the UK’s workforce works flexibly in some form, with part-time working the most popular option for over 27 per cent.

But despite vacancies across the UK labour market rising to their highest levels since records began, new research shows that the majority (74 per cent) of job advertisements still fail to offer any flexible working options.

This comes as an estimated 16 million5 are planning on leaving their roles within the next six months with the majority of people moving in search of a better work life balance.

To develop its flexible working initiative, Zurich joined forces with the Behavioural Insights Team to identify issues that were blocking career progression for women.

The research highlighted a lack of applications from women for senior roles. Many of these roles have not previously been available on a part-time or flexible basis and female employees reported that this lack of apparent flexibility was making them less likely to apply.

Commenting on the data, Steve Collinson, HR director at Zurich UK said: “As advocates of flexible working for over a decade, we know that people still want to progress their careers whilst managing a whole host of other commitments.

“Our approach is about removing barriers for those who need flexibility. We are urging the Government to make businesses like ours advertise all roles as being available on a more flexible basis wherever they can.

“Our part-time jobs initiative means we’re able to access a whole new pool of talent. This is a priority for us in the current climate but also benefits working parents, carers, those with portfolio careers or other interests they want to pursue.

“As the labour market tightens, employers need to rethink their approach to attracting and retaining talent. Workers want a new deal and are no longer prepared to work in outdated and rigid patterns.”

Caroline Nokes MP, chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, added: “Over the course of the last two years, we have seen an increase in people wanting to work more flexibly, and be able to adapt their work patterns around a variety of other responsibilities.

“I am pleased to see this initiative from Zurich, recognising the impact that the way you advertise roles can have on the number and diversity of applicants.

“As we build back from the pandemic it is going to be crucial to find different ways to make sure as many people as possible are playing as full a part in the workplace as they can, and flexibility will be key to that.”

Minister for employment Mims Davies MP said: “Flexible working and hybrid working opens up more employment inclusiveness and progression opportunities to a wider range of talent, and this Government is committed to ensuring workers can balance their work-life commitments.

“Our brilliant DWP Work Coaches are already matching jobseekers to suitable jobs that fit around existing commitments or health issues, including supporting women going through the menopause through our 50Plus Choices programme.”

Zurich is calling on the Government to legislate that all companies over an agreed size – for example private companies with over 500 employees and £500 million in turnover – should make all vacancies, wherever possible, available on a part-time, job-share and flexible basis, unless there are specific business reasons why this is not possible.

Having a family, or caring responsibilities, should not be a barrier to career progression, says the firm.

Current proposals that would give employees the right to request flexible working from day one, do not address the issue of people being put off applying for jobs that not advertised as flexible, it said.

This would also create significant uncertainty for both employers and employees. A requirement to advertise roles in this way would remove this barrier.

Zurich has been based in Swindon for more than 30 years, and will soon move into a new 123,000 sq ft HQ in the town centre (pictured).