The Covid pandemic ushered in a new era of flexible work. Employees started working from home. Managers gradually started focusing on output and deliverables, rather than time spent at desks.
Although there were several stories about companies using cameras to monitor their employees, the general outcome of the pandemic experience is that employees now have an expectation of a much more flexible work environment.
The post-pandemic business debate has been dominated by how much flexibility will be retained. Employees have developed a preference for flexible work that allows them to work from home or visit an office for meetings as required – a hybrid approach.
Since the pandemic it has felt like employees hold all the cards, but what happens if a recession arrives and there is far less economic certainty? Will company leaders start insisting that flexibility is now over?
New research from LinkedIn suggests that this may be the case. After surveying almost 3,000 C-level executives, their new research found that company leaders feel there may be a winding back of progress on important areas of working life such as flexible work (68%), skills development (74%), and employee wellbeing (75%).
This striking finding highlights a growing disconnect between what professionals require and what employers are now offering, with the balance of power shifting back to employers as hiring slows.
However, Josh Graff, LinkedIn’s managing director of EMEA and LATAM, commenting on the research, said:
“We can’t go back. Companies that pull back on flexible working and learning and development risk demotivating their workforce and pushing people to competitors that offer more attractive options. As a result, flexibility will increasingly become a survival issue for many businesses.”
Banks that have started forcing employees back into the office have faced difficulty. Many employees are rumored to be planning to quit inflexible employers once their 2023 bonus arrives. Even bankers want to retain their flexibility.
Many governments have tried to introduce flexibility into law. Australia has amended their employment law so that all employers must now accommodate requests for flexible work – provided it is a reasonable request.
In the UK, workers will soon be able to request flexible work from day one – they no longer need to wait 26 weeks to qualify for the right to make a flexible working request.
When jobs get harder to find, power usually reverts back to employers – this is typically what has happened during past recessions. Employers can reduce the salaries on offer, and flexibility available, because people just want those jobs. We all have bills to pay.
But this time does feel different.
Governments are rapidly adopting employment law that encourages flexibility at work. Bankers are demanding flexibility from traditionally very inflexible employers.
Employers are suggesting to LinkedIn that there may be a reduction in flexibility, but the immediate response of the LinkedIn boss is that there is no way that companies will turn back now.
It feels like we have turned a corner. There was a time when weekends did not exist. Sunday was the only day off work until workers organised and created the expectation of a day with the family (or watching sport) and a day for church.
Nobody is talking now of reducing the weekend – it’s more common to hear about extending the weekend by another day.
I believe that flexible work and the reduction in commuting we have seen for many workers will stay – it will become an expectation for employers. Even if there is now an economic downturn, there are standards and accepted norms for work and it looks like flexibility is here to stay.