17 Mar 2021

Future of flexible working: research reveals pandemic pressure on mums but desire for remote working going forward

  • Impact on wellbeing of homeworkers with children significantly worse than those without
  • Despite homeworking and home-schooling pressures, Nationwide and Ipsos MORI research reveals 6 in 10 with kids at home say remote working leads to better work-life balance
  • Women working remotely with children at home more likely than men to report that their mental health got worse because of Covid-19, according to the research
  • Nationwide calls on UK employers to consider what flexible working should mean at a time the nation slowly eases out of lockdown as the vaccine rollout continues
  • Flexible working champion Anna Whitehouse, known as ‘Mother Pukka’, launches findings alongside Nationwide

Women working remotely with children at home during lockdown saw their mental health get worse because of Covid-19; new research from Nationwide and Ipsos MORI uncovers the impact the pandemic has had on working families.

The national research, published as the UK approaches the one-year anniversary of the first national lockdown and as children return to school, comes as part of a wider focus on the future of the workplace by Britain’s biggest building society. As an organisation that has always endorsed flexible working, Nationwide sees a more hybrid future when it comes to work location and is calling for others to also rethink what flexible working should now mean.

Anna Whitehouse, aka flexible working champion ‘Mother Pukka’, launching the findings in partnership with Nationwide, said: “It’s about choice - where and when an employee works. Be that from the kitchen table, the office or the tinned goods aisle in a supermarket if that’s your preference. Flexibility isn’t something you need to earn. It’s not a ‘bonus ball’. It’s a fundamental shift in the way we work. In a working world that was born in the Industrial revolution and that needs to focus on talent. Recruiting talented people with caring responsibilities, living with mental health issues; those living with disabilities - those who want to live and work. It’s about working in a more human way that’s ultimately good for business.”

The research shows more than four in ten people (42%) with children at home feel that working remotely puts undue pressure on their wellbeing, compared with just over a quarter (27%) of those with no children in the household. Furthermore, just over a third (36%) of men working remotely with children at home reported their mental health getting worse due to Covid-19 but this increases to half (50%) among women in the same situation.

Despite the added pressures being felt, more than six in ten (62%) of those with children at home during lockdown say remote working allows them to achieve a better work-life balance. This is broadly consistent with those without children at home (60%), suggesting that there is a general view that remote working is a way to a better work-life balance

Jane Hanson, Chief People Officer at Nationwide, said: “At Nationwide, we make a clear distinction between ‘homeworking’ and ‘flexible working’. They are not the same thing. While the latter has been helped by the large-scale move to working from home throughout the pandemic, truly flexible working is about so much more than location. At its heart, flexible working is about creating a supportive culture that empowers people to feel that they can make active choices about how, where and when they work.

“Employers large and small, where possible, can use this time to reflect on how they work and what flexible working means for them and all their employees. The pandemic has given us the opportunity to reconsider how we make work-life more balanced by supporting everyone in a way that means they can bring their whole selves to work, each day.”

Technical note:

Ipsos MORI interviewed 2208 people aged 16-75 online between Friday 8th - Tuesday 12th January 2021, and data have been weighted to the known profile of the UK population. All polls are subject to a wide range of potential sources of error.  For more information please contact Billie.Ing@ipsos.com

Notes to editors


Nationwide has always been committed to giving its people the flexibility to manage their work-life balance, amid all the challenges that life can throw at us. Whether that be flexible hours, job sharing or compressed hours, amongst many other initiatives, we’ve always been proud of the flexibility we’ve provided our people so they feel supported to bring their whole selves to work, every day. The pandemic has given us the opportunity to go further, to rethink and reimagine what flexible working means in the 21st Century.

About Flex Appeal www.motherpukka.co.uk/flex/

For the past five years, Anna Whitehouse’s Flex Appeal campaign, has lobbied Government and businesses to embrace flexible working and to see the people behind the figures on their spreadsheets. The goal is for flexible working to become the norm across all employment in the UK. Not just for parents, but for everyone – young, old, carers, those living with disabilities, those in factories or finance, and anyone who wants to work and live a little bit better. Anything that doesn’t fix people to a 9-5, five-day week in the traditional way that excludes so many from work. It could be more creative shift patterns, flexi-time, job shares, part time, compressed hours, core hours, or as simple as allowing some employees to work different patterns. It is NOT unpaid overtime, getting four days money for five days work, or zero-hour contracts. The overwhelming evidence suggests that flex is good for everyone:

  • For employees to improve work-life balance, be healthier and happier, and be better able to provide for themselves and their families
  • For employers to help boost productivity, talent attraction, staff retention and save on site costs
  • For society to help tackle the gender pay gap, address the issue of 54,000 new mothers being forced out of work each year, and keep more taxes and skills in the economy.

“There has never been a more crucial moment to be more humane in business. The important thing to remember is that right now, we’re not working flexibly – we’re working at home in the context of a global pandemic. We need to erase the fact of flexible working only being available after 26 weeks in a role - we need to create a lasting shift. Ultimately - flex it’s good for business, and we’re working hard to ensure this is common practice outside the parameters of the pandemic and beyond.”