In September 2021, the UK Government opened a consultation on Flexible Working, inviting companies and individuals to share their views on whether the Right to Request Flexible Working should be a day one default right. Under current regulations, employees must have worked at an organisations for 26 weeks before they can request flexible working.

Below is PiPA’s response to this consultation, grounded in our research and experience in the unique industry that is the performing arts, with particular reference to the benefits greater access to flexible working would bring to parents and carers.

Consultation reference: Making Flexible Working the Default

Parents and Carers in Performing Arts (PiPA) Submission 1st Dec ‘21

Do you agree that the Right to Request Flexible Working should be available to all employees from their first day of employment?

Strongly agree, as a necessary but not sufficient response to delivering default flexibility.


PiPA Research has consistently shown that parents and carers, especially those with other protected characteristics, self-select out of work opportunities in the performing arts as they cannot see how they could manage work and family commitments if no flexibility is offered. 76% of respondents to PiPA’s 2018 Balancing Act1 survey reported turning down work due to caring responsibilities.

The performing arts workforce includes, but is not limited to, onstage, backstage, creatives, front of house, administration and management support staff, all of whom work under different employment contracts. For the purposes of current flexible working rights (which exclude freelance and zero hours workers) we are talking about employees on short-term and permanent employment contracts ie backstage and professional support staff.

Short term contracts linked to specific productions, often for fewer than 26 weeks, are common in performing arts and invariably come with high work demands. The 2020 PiPA Backstage Report2 highlighted production weeks as a significant pinch point for carers and parents working backstage, who struggle to manage the extreme working hours and overtime requirements. The lack of control over working hours and schedules was identified predominantly by women as a significant deterrent to working in certain departments including backstage, leading to gender imbalance. Flexibility and autonomy are deployed in other industries to buffer the damaging effects of high job demands, and it makes good business sense for performing arts organisations and employees to be able to benefit from the same flexibility and attract and recruit from a more diverse talent pool.

The 2021 PiPA and UK Theatre: Remote Working Survey3 identified a strong desire for increased flexibility and more manageable schedules than those currently available:

  • 92% of respondents reported that they would consider various forms of flexible working if it was available with women more frequently reporting that they would welcome all forms of flexible working options that would support their work-life commitments.

  • 90% of managers said that they would like to offer their teams a mixed model of working post Covid.

  • 71% of managers surveyed also felt that their teams have been as productive, if not more productive, whilst working from home, irrespective of their length of continuous employment demonstrating there is much more potential for flexibility in the industry than people had understood pre-Covid.

Day One Right

A day one right to flexibility could help those whose situation changes after the first day of employment if they are on a permanent contract or a long running show (longer than the ten weeks that are standard for show contracts). The current 26 week qualifying period means that in our sector, which has a higher than average number of people on short term contracts, many never even reach the qualifying point to be able to make a request.

In 2019 Society of London Theatre and Equity published a new agreement including first-of-its-kind guidelines for London’s West End to pave the way for. This is a welcome development, however, primarily due to the impact of Covid, there is no evidence currently to show what uptake there has been nor what the impact has been on employers or employees. Nevertheless, this is a welcome step that PiPA hopes other commercial and subsidised theatres will emulate, that will attract a more diverse talent pool, inclusive of those with caring responsibilities.

Flex up front

For those on short term contracts particularly, flex needs to be on the table up front. Analysing roles for flex potential prior to advertising, and then clearly communicating that in the advert would empower anyone who might otherwise self-select out of opportunities because of the lack of flex, to make an informed decision about whether to apply or not.

Furthermore, a day one right to request flexible working that remains based on a requirement for the employee to initiate the request risks exacerbating existing inequalities.

PiPA’s Balancing Act Report4 identified that 65% of participants stated that their performing arts income never or rarely covered unexpected expenses. More parents and carers than those without caring responsibilities indicated that their earnings were not sufficient to cover routine expenses. Putting the onus on the employee is counterproductive to the aim of default flexibility and will continue to perpetuate the idea that flexibility is a privilege, rather than a right. For those with the additional financial pressure of needing to support a family, asking for flexibility, in an already saturated job market, can easily be perceived as a risky endeavour that many will not be confident to take.

More than four in ten respondents to the TUC’s 2021 research5 who hadn’t asked for flexible working ‘were put off by worries about their employers’ negative reaction (42 per cent) or because they thought the request would be turned down (42 per cent). Only one in 20 (5 per cent) working mums who hadn’t made a flexible working request said it was because they didn’t need it.’* These findings are reflected in the PiPA Backstage Workforce Survey (2020) where almost half of all respondents reported that did not raise their issues about work-life balance with their employers because they were concerned it would either affect their employment or not lead to positive change. Of those who did raise their issues with their employers, fewer than one in ten reported positive changes. The report evidenced that employee-initiated dialogue and negotiation between employees, freelancers and managers about work-life balance and flexible working issues rarely resulted in positive outcomes.

The significant scope for refusal under the eight business reasons for denying flexible working requests and a lack of formal accountability for decision making do not empower or equip the workforce with the confidence and tools to put forward their case, despite the fact that just 2% of respondents to PiPA’s 2021 remote working survey6 do not think any aspect of their work can be done remotely or from home.

Summary and Recommendations

We already know that those with caring responsibilities who are able to stay in the Performing Arts are reliant on various forms of social capital to mitigate their caring responsibilities* and the current reliance on informal flex/ discretion risks exacerbating existing inequalities. PiPA focus group participants reported that current flexibility in the workplace was predominantly at the discretion of Managers and dependent on working within a supportive department.

Such informal employment practices rely on the individual’s ability to effectively articulate their needs which is tied up with confidence, class, social capital, status and job security. The tendency for people to self-select out of opportunities is greatest amongst disadvantaged and marginalised groups. It is well documented that women are more risk averse than men and less likely to put themselves forward for opportunities, particularly after a period of prolonged leave such as maternity leave, which can impact the confidence to make a request for flexible working, right at the moment when it is most needed. This is also a consequence of continuing to place the onus on the employee to make the request, rather than on the employer to identify and promote opportunities for flexible working.

PiPA has two recommendations for the TaskForce to consider when looking at ad-hoc and informal flexible working:

  1. The role of manager discretion, gender, social capital and potential for discrimination

  2. The potential requirement for employers to consider flex for all contracts, including freelance roles which are not currently covered by the right to request

PiPA supports the TUC’s recommendations to Government to introduce:

  • a legal duty on employers to consider which flexible working arrangements are available in a role and publish these in job advertisements, with the new postholder having a day one right to take up the flexible working arrangements that have been advertised. If an employer does not think that any flexible working arrangements are possible, they should be required to set out the exceptional circumstances that justify this decision.
  • a day-one right to request flexible working for all workers, with the criteria for rejection mirroring the exceptional circumstances set out above. Workers should have a right to appeal and no restrictions on the number of flexible working requests made.

Our conclusion is, for the performing arts industry, the way to expand and promote flexible working requires a much more proactive approach to making flexible working the norm. Analysing all jobs for potential flexibility in advance of the recruitment process and clearly stating the potential in the recruitment advert, making flexible working a day one right and publishing related data are three practical steps that will support the government and employers to successfully deliver default flexible working.

[1] Parents and Carers in Performing Arts 2018 Balancing Act;

[2] Parents and Carers in Performing Arts 2010 Backstage Workforce Report;

[3] Parents and Carers in Performing Arts and UK Theatre 2021 Remote Working Survey

[4] Parents and Carers in Performing Arts 2018 Balancing Act;


[6] Parents and Carers in Performing Arts and UK Theatre 2021 Remote Working Survey