In the old days it was simple. You went to work for a company, spent your whole life there and duly retired. ‘Security’ was what people wanted in a job.
But the world of work was changing, even before the pandemic. As more Millennials, people who came of age around the turn of the century, entered the workforce, employers found their staff wanted very different things: an employer who shared their values; a better work/life balance and – above all – flexibility.
And as the Millennials were followed by Generation Z, people who entered the workforce in the second decade of the century – the trend was only accentuated. Flexibility, the ability to work from home, the chance to balance work with family commitments… The old days of Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 were disappearing fast.
But far from that being a problem, could it be a ‘win-win’? Can increased flexibility lead to increased productivity? Are we really more productive in the spare bedroom than we are in the traditional office?
The pandemic has made that question relevant for thousands of companies – and the early indications are that the answer could well be ‘yes.’
Is it just that happier employees produce better work? Or does it go deeper than that? For employers, flexible working has one huge benefit as it means that they can employ, or work with, the best people, irrespective of geography. An employer’s pool of talent is no longer restricted to within commuting distance of the office and for some companies it literally becomes the whole world.
Flexible working also allows companies to employ people who simply might not be able to get into a traditional office, for example, by reason of caring responsibilities or disability.
It also, subject to the inevitable Zoom meeting, allows people to work the hours that suit them. All of us know people who’d prefer to start work ridiculously early and finish by mid-afternoon. And there are plenty of people who do their best work late at night.
It is hard to see the trend towards flexible working ending, even when the pandemic is eventually over. Most employers will unquestionably want staff back in the workplace, but they will be wise to to accept employees’ needs for flexibility. Flexible working may become just as important in recruitment as the remuneration package.
Millennials and Generation Z value companies that trust them, and that allow them to work when and how they feel most effective. A recent Canada Life survey found that 77% of UK employees thought flexible working made them more productive: that is a statistic employers will not be able to ignore.