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Exploring the relationship between working flexibility, employee retention and recruitment


In this blog piece, we explore some of the findings of our most recent ‘Future of Work’ survey run in May 2022, completed by over 200 under-35 year olds working in our member organisations, and a subsequent roundtable between employers and employees held in June 2022.

The first year post-pandemic was a time of strong staff retention, with employees prioritising security of their role amidst the uncertainty of an economy winding down the furlough scheme. However, come 2021, pent-up demand from employees wanting to move jobs was released. This was aided by a somewhat safer than anticipated and surprisingly buoyant labour and recruitment market. Nearly two thirds of respondents to our Spring 2022 survey reported moving jobs during the pandemic. We heard during our roundtable with employers that these moves were facilitated and enabled by companies across the country allowing a fully flexible working package to incoming employees, meaning a job move was no longer as inextricable from a house move as before. This means that companies are having to be more competitive with the packages they offer to attract the best talent. As one of our roundtable participants noted, “smart companies are being flexible on offering personalised packages”, including supplying workplace equipment like ergonomic desks and chairs, as well as office perks such as top of the range coffee machines to use at home.

This all speaks to a continued weighting towards the employee’s favour in the office-based labour market, where talent may choose companies in the long run who facilitate the kind of working style and set-up that suits them best. One of our participants at the roundtable reinforced this with the observation that young people have got better at asserting and justifying to employers what they want. Most of our survey respondents stated that work/life balance is the greatest benefit of flexible working, facilitating this should naturally be the priority for employers seeking to retain talent and attract new employees. This was noted by one of our roundtable participants who stated that there will be a natural process of self-selection, wherein people will choose companies in the long run who offer the kind of working style that suits them. Flexibility is crucial in an expensive city like Cambridge. Where cost of renting or home ownership is high and a possible constraint on recruitment, reducing the number of obligatory office days for employees enables those living further away to save money and time commuting, as well as living costs such as rent or high mortgage obligations.

However, do drawbacks of flexible working / labour lurk on the horizon? One of our survey respondents noted a concern that life science companies could send their professional operations such as finance and HR overseas, after realising these roles can be done effectively from anywhere. The scientists who need to be in the workplace will remain in situ, but cheaper labour locations, potentially even abroad, would likely prevail in operational plans for such companies. Such an operational model is of course possible across many sectors.

Authored by Thomas Bewes.
Thomas is a Senior Surveyor working in the industrial team at the real estate company JLL



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