Multiple long-term conditions

Making the case for fair, flexible work

We're working with Timewise to explore why employers change their policies on flexible working, and how we can make that change mainstream.

  • Partner: Timewise with the Institute for Employment Studies 
  • Funding amount: £319,075
  • Duration: 2 years 
  • Programme: multiple long-term conditions 

What we’re doing together

We are working with social enterprise Timewise, the UK’s leading experts on flexible working, and the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) to explore how we can make frontline roles in industries like retail, healthcare, and construction healthier.

We know that a person’s work has a big impact on their ability to live a healthy life. Evidence shows that ‘good’ work – work that is fairly rewarded, secure, and flexible – can have a positive impact on our health. However currently, the benefits of flexible work are unevenly distributed. 

Workforce inequalities tend to fall along occupational lines, especially when it comes to flexible working. Post-pandemic, a high proportion of desk-based workers have control over where they work and also report having time-based flexibility. In contrast, the option to work remotely, and flexibly, is unavailable to most frontline workers.

There is also evidence that women, people from minoritised ethnicities, older workers, and those with caring responsibilities are more likely to be in frontline roles that do not allow them to work flexibly. These roles, often in retail, healthcare, and auxiliary services, are also likely to be more physical and lower in autonomy, resulting in a higher rate of mental health problems and issues with chronic pain. Inequity in work is hitting the same people already affected by inequities in health.

By working with Timewise to investigate how we can improve access to flexible work in frontline roles, we have the potential to make these jobs healthier for the people in them.

Aims of the partnership

Our work with Timewise will explore what compels employers to change their policies on flexible working, and how we can make that change mainstream.  It will take place over two years, working with three large UK-wide employers in retail, construction, and health care, investigating what structural barriers and employment systems have stopped flexible work to date.  

We will develop and test frameworks for flexible working in frontline roles and assess their impact on employee health. We will also build evidence on the health impacts of a fairer approach to flexible working and devise new models that employers can look to when developing their own approaches to flexibility. This will deliver some powerful examples of how protecting health is done in practice, including the economic case for how these investments into flexible work are funded.   

Ultimately, we hope to influence more employers to offer flexible work to their staff and encourage decision makers in government to develop policies that normalise healthier working conditions.

Connection to our strategy

Our partnership with Timewise is part of the multiple long term conditions programme, which addresses social determinants of health like housing, work, and finances to help people live healthier lives and prevent them from developing chronic health conditions.  

By working with industry on how they can take frontline roles into account when devising conditions and regulations, we can contribute to improvements in equity at work and fulfil our strategic goals on improving equity in health.