Physical flexibility is often something we envy in the young. At work, we may also look back fondly on the flexible hours we enjoyed when younger. Now employees are replacing that longing with action. Many job seekers are prioritizing flexible work arrangements.
Research shows demand for flexible work is growing:
- Among millennials, 92% “identify flexibility as a top priority when job hunting”
- 80% of women are looking for flexibility in their next role
- 79% of employees believe “flexible working would make them more productive”
Even staffers over 50 are angling for more flexible working schedules as they look to ease into retirement with part-time hours first.
COVID-19 has only amped up the desire for more flexibility at work. According to Deloitte, 82% of companies now see flexible work arrangements as a critical component of employee management. It’s part of a greater trend Deloitte identified in its 2020 Global Human Capital Trends Report towards “designing work for well-being.”
Why Flexibility Matters at Work
It’s important to recognize flexibility isn’t just a “wouldn’t it be nice if” desire of the worker who wants to remain in pajamas most of the work day. In a Harvard Business Review (HBR) study, 96% of the nearly 2,000 of white-collar professionals surveyed said they needed flexibility.
Some 97% of men and 95% of women reported said they needed access to flexibility, women were more less likely to have access to flexibility options. Yet only 47% of their companies offered flexibility.
HBR identified three ways a lack of flexibility can negatively impact employees:
- Burden on parents and employees with care giver responsibilities
- Struggle to incorporate exercise and healthy living
- Burnout as it becomes more challenging to sustain performance and productivity levels
Flexibility extends beyond working hours too. Employees want more choice in how and where work is done. The spectrum of flexibility options can include:
- Enabling employees to create unconventional work schedules (time shifting to optimize productivity, performance)
- Giving employees agility to leave work for a few hours to accommodate an appointment or family obligation and make up those hours later
- Basing workers out of the business office but allowing them to work in locations of their choosing some of the time
- Offering employees the ability to work from anywhere
- Minimizing travel
- Reducing workload for employees who want to work part-time only
- Providing unlimited paid time off
- Accepting flexible arrival and departure
- Compressing shifts or workweek
- Supporting caregiving leave
Prioritizing Flexibility to Recruit, Retain the Best
Flexible working arrangements recognize the many ways in which business as usual has evolved. With globalization, the 9-to-5 work day has been replaced with a need to be available 24-7. Business is done across time zones with customers in countries around the world.
Offering flexible hours and recognizing work can be done outside of the traditional office cubicle can help an organization gain a competitive edge. For one thing, the potential talent pool gets wider and deeper when flexible work patterns are offered. Additionally, employee engagement, diversity and retention benefit in environments that provide flexibility.
In Manpower Group Solutions’s survey of 14,000 employees ages 18-65 in 19 countries, nearly 40 percent listed “schedule flexibility” in the top three factors they consider when making career decisions. Further, 63 percent of candidates “do not believe they need to be sitting at their desk to get their work done.”
“Workplace flexibility as a talent management policy is no longer an option; it is an essential practice that enables organizations to attract and develop skilled talent,” Manpower’s authors noted.
The international study did identify differences across regions. Americans had the greatest interest in unlimited paid time off while those in India were more eager for location independence. The Japanese respondents were more interested in choosing the time of their work shift.
Yet the authors concluded, “regardless of the type of schedule flexibility desired in their countries, candidates are seeking a wider variety of flexible workplace options to help them find a better work-life balance.”
This means business could benefit from:
- Investing in technology supporting non-face-to-face or off-site work
- Establishing parameters for remote work accountability
- Determining how work hours will be tracked and performance will be measured
- Specifying ways in which office or department coverage will be maintained
- Securing mobile work to avoid compliance or regulatory concerns
- Learning from employees what is effective and what could be improved
The Future of Flexibility
Along with different priorities for work environment flexibility regionally, the employee’s industry also plays a role. According to Manpower, individuals with desk jobs were more likely to prefer location independence while those in healthcare or retail were more interested in compressed shifts.
Ultimately, though, the essential truth remains: flexibility allows individuals to live and perform at their best. Employers who remain rooted in the traditional ways are going to struggle to attract top talent as job seekers look at flexibility as a deciding factor.
Think flexibility would work for you? The Society for Human Resources Management suggests employees consider the following questions first:
- Are you self-directed and comfortable working without close supervision?
- Do you manage your time well?
- Are you comfortable working alone for long periods of time?
- Can you effectively manage work interactions with co-workers, clients, supervisors and subordinates working flexibly or virtually?
Better understand employee opinions on flexibility or what kind of options would appeal most to your people. Sogolytics’s comprehensive employee experience survey platform helps you gather and analyze the data you need to make informed decisions.