Workplace flexibility is king, but many employers are falling short

Flexibility working is crucial for retaining employees, but they need more control over their working arrangements to make the most of hybrid work.
By: | February 17, 2023

A recent survey has found that workplace flexibility has become incredibly important to employees in the last few years, and while HR leaders seem somewhat aligned with that notion, employees need more control over what flexibility looks like for their employers to reap the benefits.

According to Achievers Workforce Institute’s 2023 Engagement and Retention Report, employers are increasingly embracing flexible solutions.

For instance, the global research, conducted in November, found that 51% of HR leaders surveyed either had already implemented a four-day workweek (9%) or were considering it (42%). This varied around the world, from 57% in the US to 38% in Australia.

“HR leaders are not making this decision in a vacuum,” said Natalie Baumgartner, Chief Workforce Scientist of AWI. “For the first time in the six years that we have been doing this research, work flexibility is the top reason to job hunt in 2023, equal with career progression.”

However, despite that, some employers “have seen the tail end of the pandemic as an opportunity to return to 2019 business practices,” Baumgartner noted, adding that many are compromising with employees asking for flexibility by offering hybrid work.

“This is a limited view of flexibility,” she said. “Many employees still feel they are not in control of how and when they work, leading some hybrid employees to look for other options.”

Baumgartner said employers should note rule out hybrid entirely; the key determining factor for hybrid success is empowering employees to choose how they like to work. AWI found that employees who say they can work in the way they prefer are more than twice as likely to be highly engaged and 22% more likely not to job hunt, she said.

“Organisations that view flexibility as a way of supporting employees in living full lives and meeting all their personal and professional responsibilities will implement policies that balance true flexibility with employee wants and needs,” Baumgartner said.

Flexibility in action

According to Hannah Yardley, Achiever’s Chief People and Culture Officer, Achievers itself is using the AWI research to develop its philosophy on flexibility.

For example, Achievers’ employees can choose from one of four “personas” that determine their work habits:

  • In-office: Local employee who spends most days in the office
  • Hybrid: Local employee who works in the office for two-plus days a week, with the flexibility to work the rest of the week remotely
  • Remote by choice: Local employee who spends most days at home but will come to the office for organisational and team events
  • Remote: Long-distance employee who is 100% remote and rarely or never comes to the office for team events

READ: Is flexibility the solution for the future workplace?

“Not everyone defines flexibility in the same way, so there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Plus, as HR leaders know, we need structure in place to help us make decisions about our workforce and workplace,” Yardley said, noting a recent pulse survey showed employees appreciate “that the control is in their hands in terms of where and when they work. This approach has built measurably greater trust in company leadership among our employees.”

Before employers move to instate new flexibility strategies to improve employee wellbeing, there is a crucial first step, Yardley said: Ask employees what wellbeing really means to them so that you can design the strategy around that. That is particularly important, given the AWI report found that employees are only half as likely as HR professionals to believe their organisation supports their wellbeing.

“Before implementing actions, and certainly before investing in innovated ideas,” Yardley said, “HR must first truly understand their employees’ definition and expectations of wellbeing.”

About the author: Tom Starner is a freelance writer. The article was first published on Human Resource Executive.