Supporting the return to work

Supporting the return to work

How flexible working offers a solution to those facing challenges entering the workforce 

For those in steady employmentit can be easy to take the dreaded Monday morning feeling of returning to the office for granted – but for the thousands of people facing barriers to entering the workforce, employment can feel like an unattainable dream. With challenges to working ranging from lack of transportation to a past criminal record, those struggling to find employment are a broad, diverse group.1  

Whatever the cause, unemployment can have serious repercussions on both a personal level, impacting family finances and being detrimental to health and relationships, and on a broader level, affecting communities and lowering a nation’s GDP.2 For businesses facing hiring challenges, it can mean a significant pool of talent is lying untapped. 

These varied ramifications make finding a solution for would-be workers crucial for potential employees and employers alike. Engaging with and encouraging these groups of people back into the workplace is key, and one proven way to do this is by encouraging flexible working practices. Here, we take a look at four types of employees who can be supported by access to flexible optionsthose with caring responsibilities, single parents, older workers and people with disabilities. 


Carers – those looking after a relative or friend who needs extra support due to illness or disability – can face a ‘juggling act’ managing a job and their other responsibilities. 3 In the UK, one in five carers has to give up employment to manage their caring responsibilities, and half of carers who do not work say that they would like to.4 The UK Government recommends a number of flexible working arrangements5, such as agile hours, job-sharing and working remotely to help carers keep up with the competing responsibilities without dropping out of work.6 

Flexible workspace complements these arrangements by allowing a carer to stay close enough to the care receiver to pick up a direct caring duty or a secondary task like a school run. It also lets carers work remotely outside the distractions of the home. Such a balance offers a way to maintain productivity and appropriate levels of care. With agile hours and locations, leaving a career to care for a loved one can become a choice rather than a necessity. 

Single parents 

Parents, and particularly single parents, face a number of challenges when looking to find or return to employment. Childcare is expensive and with a single income, it can become inaccessible to many single-parent families.7 Accommodating childcare pickups and drop-offs around traditional working hours and a commute can actively prevent single parents from taking certain roles. This may mean they are forced to take a job with more schedule or shift flexibility but less employment protection and fewer advancement opportunities.8 Often, a ‘sick child or flat tyre can mean a lost job’ for single parents.9 

It is perhaps not surprising that IWG sees clear value in flexible working for working parents, but single parents can benefit from this type of office space.10 Working nearer to home or school means more options for childcare and can eliminate commuting-based worries like traffic or a delayed train. These considerations can be the difference between employment and unemployment for many single parents looking to return to work.  

Older workers and flexible working 

Research shows that older workers can also struggle to find or maintain a job, mainly due to factors including poor health, discrimination and lack of training.11 As retirement age continues to increase around the globe, it is important to find solutions to increase quality of life for workers who are in employment into their later years.12 Flexible working can’t solve all of these problems, but it can make working possible for older employees struggling with health issues, caring responsibilities or limited mobility.13  

According to a report by think tank The Resolution Foundation, a significant number of older workers say they would stay in work longer if they had agile scheduling options.14 Flexible workspace can help make flexible arrangements a reality for many older workers who don’t want to work from home but can’t commit to a long commute, need access to technology they may not have in their home or those with health needs that require being able to work near medical care.  


Health considerations and mobility can also be a major barrier to entering the workplace for people with disabilities across all age groupsAccording to a study in American Behavioural Scientist, despite efforts to open up employment to those with disabilities, just 17.2% of people with a disability are in work, compared to 65% of those without a disability.15  

Flexible working can again alleviate some of the challenges people with disabilities face when trying to enter the workforcelike scheduling around medical appointments or matching hours to the employee’s peak productivity time, which may vary significantly throughout the day.16 A flexible workspace can also make a difference for people facing mobility issues during a commute. Staying closer to home, finding an office with increased access or being able to commute outside of rush hour can make the physical aspect of getting to work easier. For people with medical and mobility considerations – whether related to physical health or mental – flexible workspace can increase their ability to find and maintain employment.  

Access to work: beyond flexible working 

The reasons an individual may face hurdles in entering the job market are as unique as the person themselves. The results, however, are usually negative for all – and government, companies and communities share a responsibility to alleviate these problems. Flexible workspace certainly has a key role to play in offering options and support to people from across the working population. 

Find out more about how flexible workspace can make companies accessible to larger talent pools