Flexible working isn’t a cure-all

Flexible working is an important part of addressing the talent crisis, but it can’t solve all the associated issues.

Person working from home at their desk with computers


It’s great that flexible working is being promoted as the cure for the talent attraction crisis and clearly candidates are not only expecting it more, but more ready to turn a job down if they don’t get it. Covid has accelerated this trend massively and shown that flexible working is possible.

Clearly that is a good thing, but, sitting through events on talent attraction, I wonder if we are not expecting too much of flexible working, are not approaching it in too superficial a way and are hence setting it up to fail given flexible working cannot solve all aspects of the recruitment crisis we currently face. It is an important part, but there is so much else going on that is feeding the talent crisis.

Flexible working is part of many of the other factors that we need to look at, particularly diversity and inclusion. The ageing workforce demands that we rethink jobs and ways of working and reach out to a wider pool of people, for instance, returners, people with disabilities that may mean getting to the office is not possible, people in more rural communities and so forth. Flexible working can definitely help with this, but there needs to be an openness to encouraging people in with different experience, different skills and different viewpoints. That has to be reflected not just in recruitment processes, but in what actually happens once you are in work, how you are treated, whether you get access to training, whether you get promoted and so on. Flexible jobs also have to be manageable jobs, not just 9-5 office jobs shoehorned into part time or remote working. Everything needs to be looked at and our access to increasingly nuanced data and more employee feedback will help in this.

There is also, of course, growing automation and the impact of AI, the shortage of people with the right skills, and issues around international mobility, for instance, the impact of Brexit. The talent crisis is a global thing and that means increased global competition to attract people, with immigration policy and an open, tolerant culture being big factors. And there is the question of the type of jobs that are on offer. Do they offer room for development – not just progression upwards, but also sideways, given not everyone is interested in climbing the career ladder?

Flexible working is a vital part of modern working and it is clearly linked to greater work life balance, but only if it is properly thought through. Moreover, hybrid working en masse is something many employers have yet to master. We are very much in the experimental stages. The danger is that you set enormous expectations for flexible working that are impossible to meet, don’t prepare the ground sufficiently and are not open to listening to what works and what doesn’t. That is a recipe for disappointment and backlash.

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