Flexible working and the pressure to stay connected

5 October 2023


A new law that comes into force next year aims to improve access to flexible working.  In parallel, the Government is consulting on informal flexible working practices.

To examine how flexibility at work is currently being experienced, we surveyed 2,971 working adults in the UK in the Summer of 2023 about the extent to which they are given true flexibility at work (re time, place and role), the pressure to stay digitally connected out of working hours, and how these questions affect different groups, including neurodivergent workers.

This snapshot of flexible working in practice highlights a number of important questions for policymakers as official guidance is updated to support the implementation of flexible working policies.

Key findings

1 Many workers feel the pressure to stay digitally connected out of hours… but wellbeing seems to be higher when they don’t

Around half of workers reported that they felt an expectation to digitally connect to work out of hours. For around a third, this expectation came from their manager.

At the same time, our statistical analysis shows that higher levels of flexibility and less expectation to be connected out of hours are linked to higher levels of wellbeing.

2 Email continues to reign supreme but is WhatsApp eroding boundaries?

Email is by some distance still the most commonly used digital tool to connect to work. However, WhatsApp was the third most popular work communications tool, raising questions about home/work boundaries.  These findings highlight the need for organisations to develop clear connectivity policies and standards of email etiquette that can help staff manage digital connection boundaries and pressure.

3 The flexibility gender gap – it’s not what you think

More women work part-time but more men than women say they are benefitting from flexibility over when, where and how they work.

This may be in part because part time workers reported that they have less flex over their working conditions.

However, when asked about their reasons for working flexibly, a more typical gender divide emerged: more men (39%) than women (32%) found flexibility helpful to manage financial needs; more women (32%) than men (27%) found flexibility helpful to manage childcare.

4 Flexible working can help neurodivergent people at work but organisations are failing them

Flexible working can be particularly important and beneficial for neurodivergent workers.

Two thirds (66%) of neurodivergent workers report that flexible working helps them to manage a mental health condition and 46% a learning/neurological difference (e.g. a neurodivergent ‘condition’). However, a third reported that their manager did not support requests to work flexibly and 37% were expected to be available out of hours.


Our sample comprised UK-only working adults from a research crowdsourcing platform. Our participants self-reported their neurodivergence, part-time or full-time status, and other demographic details. We used a convenience sampling approach and, owing to the ‘pulse’/rapid nature of data collection, we did not include questions about industry sectors, job category, job level, etc.

To access the data please contact digit@sussex.ac.uk.


This survey was commissioned by the Digit Data Observatory team, Dr Emma Russell, with research assistance from Lorraine MacKenzie.