Concerns have been raised that the benefits of flexible working are being “skewed” towards higher earners.
New research shows just over half of low-paid workers can work in this way compared with four out of five of those with better paid jobs.
Only 51% of those earning less than £20,000 have flexible working, compared with 80% of those on a salary of more than £50,000 a year, the research found.
The research also showed a growing gap between higher earners, who are more likely to enjoy flexible working, and less well-paid Scots – with the data from the 2023 Flex for Life report showing a gap of 29 points.
This is up from 23 points last year, when 50% of those earning under £20,000 benefited from flexible working, compared with 73% of those on salaries of more than £50,000.
Nikki Slowey, director and co-founder of Flexibility Works, said: “We’re concerned that while the pandemic has increased flexible working in Scotland overall, the benefits are skewed towards workers on higher incomes where good flexible working keeps getting better, while little changes for workers on the lowest incomes.”
While the full reasons for this are not clear, Ms Slowey said that a “lack of trust is likely to be part of the problem”, adding that some employers “still expect workers to ‘earn the right’ to work flexibly”.
She spoke out as Flexibility Works, which supports companies to develop such working practices, published its latest annual report into how widely these are being used.
The work, done with the support of the Scottish Government and Sir Tom Hunter’s The Hunter Foundation, saw more than 1,000 workers, 248 employers and more than 200 unemployed Scots who are looking for a job all questioned.
It found salary was often the key difference when it comes to flexible working, with Ms Slowey stating: “Initially we thought this was because more low-paid workers are in frontline roles, such as in the care, manufacturing and hospitality sectors, where employers need to be more open-minded and creative to create flexibility.
“But our figures show this isn’t the case. Front line or not, the higher earners always have significantly more flexibility than lower earners.”
She added: “Lack of trust is likely to be part of the problem because we know some employers still expect workers to ‘earn the right’ to work flexibly. But the full reasons are something we need to explore further.”
Ms Slowey insisted it makes “good business sense for employers to explore what flexibility they could offer to all workers but especially those in the lowest paid roles”.
She added: “We know lots of people really need flexible working in order to work at all, so creating greater flexibility across the salary spectrum would help people get work at the level they’re skilled for, stay in work and progress at work. This is good for them and their families.
“But making jobs accessible to more people is also good for employers, especially those tackling skills shortages, and the wider Scottish economy too.”
Janny Dickie, 56, who works for social care support provider C-Change Scotland, told how flexible working helped her, despite earning less than £20,000 a year.
Ms Dickie, from Hyndland in Glasgow, said: “No-one comes into the care sector expecting a big salary, and we know budgets are often very tight. But some flexibility costs nothing and means I have a better work-life balance and less stress.
“I use my non-working time to help my daughter by looking after my grandchildren, who are 12, 10 and nearly two.
“And I can be around for my Welsh terrier, Ruby, and take her for walks. It’s not an exaggeration to say that if I didn’t have any flexibility, I just wouldn’t be able to stay in the job.”
Wellbeing Economy and Fair Work Secretary Neil Gray said while the research had shown an increase in flexible working it “underlines that more can be done to continue encouraging employers to unlock more vacancies to flexible work at the point of hire and to support workers in lower paid roles into better and more flexible work”.
Mr Gray added: “Although the legal powers governing flexible working are reserved to the UK Government, the Scottish Government is committed to working with employers directly and through their representative bodies to explore ways of promoting flexible, agile and inclusive workplaces that benefit all workers.
“Improving access to flexible working is an important means to support people who are managing care commitments or long-term health conditions to enter, or remain, in paid work and will enable employers to access and retain valuable skills and experience in the workplace.”