Since the COVID-19 pandemic, flexible work has become one of the most debated topics in the world of work. It’s high on the agenda at most business events I attend and it’s something I’m asked about almost daily by clients. It was front and center of discussions at the World Economic Forum in January–and the intensity of the ongoing debate shows no sign of abating.
Flexible work has been dominating global headlines, with some experts suggesting that the end of remote work is near, as some of the world’s largest companies ask employees to return to the office.
However, this is not what we are seeing–and one thing is for sure, employees agree. Our data shows that flexibility at work is now non-negotiable, and often as important as pay, with many willing to leave their job if it isn’t offered, even in the context of declining job security and rising cost of living.
However, what much of this ongoing debate is missing is that flexibility is not just about remote work. This is just one part of the equation. Viewing it through this narrow prism makes it only relevant for one portion of the workforce: white-collar, office-based talent.
To create a more equitable workforce, we must bring the benefits of flexible work to different groups of talent, including non-office-based workers–and broaden the way we think about flexibility.
Our new Workmonitor Pulse data based on the views of 7,500 workers in the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, and Australia shows that there’s a significant difference in the type of flexibility that different groups of workers want.
Three in 10 (30%) of those in blue and gray-collar non-office roles prioritize flexible working schedules above other types of flexibility, nearly twice the number of white-collar workers (16%). A further quarter of non-office workers (22%) consider flexibility in the number of hours worked as most important, compared to only 9% of those in white-collar roles.
For this group of workers, flexible work is not just about where they work, it’s about how they work. Take for example the retail worker who needs to prioritize evening shifts to help balance childcare responsibilities during the day or the engineer who started a second job during the pandemic, and now works part-time hours each month.
It’s important that businesses recognize that every situation is unique. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to flexible work. A granular approach is needed.
Our data also indicates that a lack of flexible work for non-office roles is leading to an equity gap compared to what white-collar professionals receive. Only a quarter (24%) of non-office workers have seen increased flexibility since the pandemic, compared to over half (52%) of white-collar employees.
Many non-office workers feel that their employer is not trying hard enough to accommodate their needs and believe that more flexibility could be provided. This indicates that non-office workers are too often left behind in the flexible work movement and are not currently reaping the benefits of flexibility that white-collar workers enjoy, such as more time with family, the ability to pursue a hobby, and better work-life balance.
In the context of global worker shortages, especially acute in these professions, improving flexibility for non-office workers is a strategic imperative for businesses–not a “nice to have.” Providing flexibility in a more equitable and integrated way for all workers ultimately contributes to improved hiring, retention, and productivity levels. To seize this opportunity and benefit from its positive impact, employers must find ways to extend the benefits of flexibility to all workers.
Sander van’t Noordende is the CEO of Randstad.
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