Employees want flexibility, and employers are going all-out to offer it - or that's how it seems on the surface. In almost any conversation about talent attraction and retention, flexibility will emerge somewhere, whether in the form of hybrid/remote work, flexible hours, or more experimental arrangements. And businesses do acknowledge the important role that flexibility plays in finding, and keeping, people.
A new global research study by enterprise software firm Unit4 has found that now, more than a year after the worst of the pandemic and with recession looming on the economic front, attracting and retaining talent still remains the top priority for 62% of organisations over the next 12 months. At the same time, 39% of organisations have seen people leave for more flexibility elsewhere over the past year.
The study, which incorporates inputs from 3450 mid- to large-sized organisations across North America, Europe, Australia, and Singapore, also shows that 50% of respondents are prioritising the implementation of a successful hybrid or remote working policy over the next year. While the report does not indicate how many of these respondents overlap with those who have seen flexibility-related attrition, the number does imply that for this 50% of organisations, their existing approach to hybrid or remote work isn't actually going well.
As to why, the study suggests that it's because existing flexible working policies are inadequate, whether or not organisations recognise it. While 92% of respondents have already adopted some kind of flexible working policy, only 18% of policies are truly flexible - defined by the researchers as being without restrictions such as expecting a mandated proportion of time in the office, or only applying the policy to certain employees. And 76% of respondents do admit that their policy needs improvement in one way or another.
Although 92% of respondents have already adopted some kind of flexible working policy, only 18% of policies are truly flexible
Technology seems to play a major role in this gap. Despite the acceleration of digitalisation over the last few years, 62% of respondents say their tools are not adequate to support flexible work. The study defined two specific types of technology as being required for remote working effectiveness: internal productivity and employee experience tools.
However, the 'why' of flexibility isn't working doesn't make a difference to employees, who will simply express their opinion of a poor flexibility policy by leaving. The report states baldly: "Post-pandemic, people expect flexibility in the same way they’d expect to receive a salary. If an organization can’t provide that, then they are at risk of losing talent."
Is there a way for organisations to navigate employee expectations around flexibility and make themselves actually attractive to talent, rather than merely thinking they are attractive? Investing in technology is one part of it, according to the report; adapting the organisational culture is another part, and one that will be significantly more difficult, but also more clearly determine success.
“The pandemic showed that organizations which were prepared to be more innovative and progressive in their people and technology strategies, as well as company policies, came out ahead in terms of business performance,” said Mike Ettling, CEO of Unit4. “Looking forward to 2023, businesses around the world will face a myriad of pressures such as geopolitical issues, inflation and rising energy prices, as well as the continued competition for talent. The ability to adapt to such challenges is key, with no room for hesitation or inertia, as it can have a lasting impact on future performance."