Employment Insight: Achieving cultural change in the workplace – are we moving or standing still?

The results of a recent poll conducted by ACAS suggest that the current political stalemate is matched by a degree of frustration in the workplace over the slow pace of change to attitudes and culture. Workers report that their number one concern remains balancing work and home life (53%). However, the majority (63%) think flexible working arrangements will stay about the same in the next year. Research carried out by Working Families and Bright Horizons showed that 86% of those surveyed would like to work flexibly but only 49% do so. Despite the extension of the right to request flexible working, since 2010 the take-up has not increased significantly. This may explain why more than a third feel that flexible working is not available in their workplace.


Almost half of parents surveyed report that the “always-on” expectations created by technology have blurred the boundaries between work and home, restricting quality time spent with their families and negatively impacting their wellbeing. This chimes with the results of the ACAS poll which reported “staying healthy and feeling well” as workers’ second priority, rating even higher than “job security”. Despite a number of prominent campaigns, fewer than half think that mental health will be taken as seriously as physical health by their employers.

In January 2019, the government responded to the BEIS Committee report on gender pay gap reporting. It is clear that there is no appetite for making any changes to the regime, even though there is widespread agreement about its shortcomings. In the same month, the Government Equalities Office reported the results of its survey of employers. Although this showed significant improvement in the understanding of the gender pay gap amongst employers, only a third have developed a strategy to reduce this. Interestingly, responses to the ACAS poll show almost no difference between men and women regarding the value they place on fair pay. However, that appears to be the only aspect of equality.

For women who make up the majority of those working part-time, the roadblocks to career progression remain. Part-time workers have only a 21% chance of being promoted within the next three years compared with the 45% chance enjoyed by their full-time colleagues. Those in less stable jobs, including zero-hour, casual worker and agency worker arrangements, are also paying a high price for the flexibility this may give them.

The picture is particularly bleak for prospective, expectant and new mothers. Within the private sector, 36% of managers surveyed agreed that during recruitment it is reasonable to ask women about plans to have children in the future. The Women and Equalities Select Committee report in August 2016, showed that the number of women forced to leave their jobs during pregnancy and maternity leave almost doubled between 2005 and 2016. Two years ago, the government confirmed it was committed to strengthening the legal protections. The government is currently consulting about a proposal to extend the redundancy protection so that it begins from the date pregnancy is notified to the employer and does not end until 6 months after the employee returns to work. Consideration will also be given to extending this protection to other groups, such as employees taking adoption leave or shared parental leave. Although this is well-intentioned, it will do nothing to tackle outdated attitudes.

It is easier than ever to get a sense of an organisation’s workplace culture, beneath the glossy website. Websites like Glassdoor, gender pay gap reporting requirements and online publication of Employment Tribunal judgments, along with high profile scandals fuelled by the #MeToo movement, provide a wealth of information easily shared across social media platforms. This increase in transparency, coupled with a high employment rate, means that Millennials and Generation Z can make conscious decisions about the organisations they join.

Increasingly, employers are recognising these concerns and, putting staff wellbeing and flexibility at the core of their people strategy. In these difficult economic times it can be challenging for HR to make the business case for training staff, tackling poor workplace culture and supporting families and flexible working options. However, the message is clear. This investment is no longer desirable but essential; for today’s workforce and for tomorrow’s.

This information is necessarily of a general nature and doesn’t constitute legal advice. This is not a substitute for formal legal advice, given in the context of full information under an engagement with Bates Wells.

All content on this page is correct as of February 15, 2019.