Workplace flexibility is king, but many employers are falling short

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 in order for their employers to reap the benefits.

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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 U.S. to 38% in Australia.

Natalie Baumgartner, Achievers

“HR leaders are not making this decision in a vacuum,” says AWI Chief Workforce Scientist Natalie Baumgartner. “For the first time in the six years that we have been doing this research, work flexibility is the No. 1 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 notes, adding that many are compromising with workers asking for flexibility by offering hybrid work.

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

Baumgartner says employers should not rule out hybrid entirely; the key determining factor for hybrid success is empowering employees to choose how they like to work. AWI found that workers 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 says.

See also: Remote work options are still surging among high-paying jobs

“Organizations 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 says.

Flexibility in action

According to Hannah Yardley, Achievers’ 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 organizational and team events
  • Remote: Long-distance employee who is 100% remote and rarely or never comes to the office for team events

Hannah Yardley, Achievers
Hannah Yardley, Achievers

“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 says, 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’s a crucial first step, Yardley says: Ask employees what wellbeing really means to them so that you can design the strategy around that. That’s particularly important, given the AWI report found that employees are only half as likely as HR professionals to believe their company supports their wellbeing.

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

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Tom Starner
Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at [email protected].