The changing meaning of workplace flexibility

Gone are the days of the nine-to-five, five-day work week, with rigid working patterns giving way for greater flexibility in the workplace. The Covid-19 pandemic forced many to work from home, proving that an absence from the office doesn’t have to mean an absence of productivity, along with highlighting the benefits for work-life balance.

After years of remote working, we are now seeing an evolution to a new “new” normal. This shift is evident with the introduction of new legislative leaps, such as the Flexible Working Bill, which gives workers the right to request flexible working arrangements from day one of a new job. Employers are required to consider these requests and provide a reason if they wish to reject them.

Backed by employees, businesses, and the government, it’s clear that flexibility at work is here to stay. However, flexible work policies will continue to evolve as businesses look to balance options that will be best for their organizations with the preferences of their employees.

Our recent Talent Trends Survey only further amplifies this trend as many workers said they seek hybrid working arrangements (55%), flexible hours (70%), and the ability to choose the days they work from the office (52%) when taking on a new role.

What does flexibility in the workplace look like today?

It is easy to think about flexibility only in terms of location, but this meaning has evolved post-pandemic and there’s no longer a one-size-fits-all when it comes to flexible working. In addition to remote working and hybrid working, employers can offer: · Job-sharing: Two people share one job between them and split the hours

  • Part-time hours: Employees work fewer hours, usually through a reduction in working days
  • Compressed hours: Working full-time hours in fewer days, for example working 10 hours across four days, rather than eight hours across five days
  • Flexitime: Employees can choose their start, finish, and break times throughout the working day, but usually works pre-agreed ‘core’ hours
  • Staggered hours: Employees have different start, finish, and break times from other workers
  • Shift work: Employees are on a rotating schedule, often working outside the standard 9-5 workday
  • Temporary or fixed-term contracts: Employees work at an organization under a fixed end date. 
  • Snowbird programs: Workers can transfer to an organization’s location in a warmer region during winter.

What works for some organizations and employees may not work for all, so a flexible approach to flexibility is essential to maximize success–but it is a critical part of the new “new” normal, and for good reason. Evidence shows that increased employee autonomy leads to better results regarding retention, burnout, and productivity. 

Since the pandemic, more U.S. companies have implemented flexible work arrangements, revealing that 71% of those companies reported an increase in their employees’ innovation and positive outlooks on their organizations. 

Additionally, in March of 2024, Senator Bernie Sanders proposed reducing the 40-hour workweek to 32 hours over a four-year period. While it has yet to receive much support from the Senate, such proposals reflect how many workers feel. To reinforce this point: a 2022 UK study of the 4-day work week found that more than half (55%) of project managers and CEOs said the change had a positive impact on their business. A year later, 89% continued the policy, with many reporting positive effects, including reduced turnover and improved recruitment. 

Michael Page’s Talent Trends survey demonstrates that, while salary is the top consideration when seeking a new job, job satisfaction comes from work/life balance for more than half (51%) of employees. As a result, organizations need to strike a balance to maintain a happy and productive workforce.

Balancing business concern with employee demand

While two fifths of employees are now working in the office more than they did 12 months ago, very few are back five days a week. 43% of those who have changed their working pattern in this way have only done so due to changes in company policy. While some businesses may deem this necessary, the impact on staff retention could be devastating, as 52% of workers are actively looking for a new role due to such changes.

Two in five employees now rank flexibility as most essential when accepting or applying for a role, with 55% agreeing that hybrid-working is one of the most important aspects of flexibility. With that in mind, it is perhaps no surprise that many businesses found recruiting talent over the past year difficult, citing the following as top factors driving this challenge:

  • salaries (40%)
  • limited candidates with necessary skills (37%)
  • lack of applicants that matched company culture (30%)

Even in industries not traditionally flexible due to the nature of work, employees have the same demands. Around three in ten workers in Property & Construction, Engineering & Manufacturing, and Accounting & Finance (54%, 62% and 68% respectively) state they would like flexible working hours, and 49% of Property & Construction workers would also value hybrid working opportunities.

Learn more about the changing meaning of flexibility in the workplace. 

Giving the people what they want

The demand for flexible hours, hybrid working, and other flexible policies among workers is just the tip of the iceberg. These more tangible changes signify what employees really want: autonomy. Employees want to have control over their working pattern and what flexibility means to them.

Given employees’ desire for choice and the benefits of offering flexible work policies, the importance of flexibility in the workplace cannot not be understated. The businesses that will succeed when it comes to motivating, attracting, and retaining talent in the current landscape are those that embrace the new ‘new’ normal of flexibility and allow employees to choose the working patterns that work best for them. 

For more employee insights, check out our latest Talent Trends report or request a call back from our team of experts.

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