Business Advice

Beating the great resignation – how flexible working can help small business retain staff

- March 12, 2022 3 MIN READ

Employees these days have more power than ever before. The pandemic has shown that people can be as productive remotely as in an office, and sometimes more so. Many people have adjusted their outlook on work-life balance and want more flexibility. Meanwhile the global skills shortage grows more severe, giving talented workers much more choice and negotiating power writes Bill Zeng, Senior Director, APAC, Poly.

Adding to the pressure on employers is the acceleration towards digitisation, where tech capabilities are desperately needed but are in incredibly short supply. So what can organisations do to ensure they have the workforce they need?

  1. Don’t force workers back into the office

Research shows that people are more likely to resign if they’re forced back into the office as pandemic restrictions ease. Greater flexibility, not just remote working, is the second most influential factor which workers say could see them turn down a job offer from another organisation according to the ELMO Employee Sentiment Index

The Index identified “flexible/remote working” as the top priority for employees after pay/incentives, with “easy and/or short commute” the fourth highest priority. As many as 43% of workers plan to search for a new job in 2022. Nearly a third (31%) plan to quit their jobs as soon as they secure a new position and almost a fifth (19%) plan to quit without another job lined up. The researchers note that “workers are also expecting hybrid-working to become an entrenched part of working like as 42 per cent of workers expect to work from home part-time”.

Australia’s employment rate continues to grow according to official ABS stats, hitting record highs in December, with ANZ research showing job ads 36.8% higher than pre-COVID levels. ANZ expects the job-switching rate to rise post-Omicron “as workers change to better, higher paying jobs in 2022. This would mean more people quitting their current jobs… so we may not have seen the peak yet”.

  1. Offer maximum flexibility

The pandemic has shown that people can be productive from anywhere. KPMG notes that certain working from home policies are likely to become BAU (Business As Usual) and recommends that businesses “create models of working that facilitate multiple life choices through flexibility and connectivity”.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone will work permanently from home. Instead a hybrid workforce is more likely, with people doing a mix of remote and office-based work. A rise in satellite offices and co-working spaces is also predicted, located in suburban areas that are a shorter commute than CBD offices. McKinsey has suggested that some businesses may ditch CBD headquarters altogether for suburban campuses.

Commute-avoidance is predicted to have two results. According to Infrastructure Victoria analysis, Some people will choose to live further away in outer suburbs and peri-rural areas, where commutes will be longer but less frequent. Others will prefer a 15-minute work-life model where people can work, live and play within 15 minutes of their home. Organisations will need to embrace both these realities to maximise recruitment opportunities.

  1. Ensure workforce equity

One of the most startling suggestions to come out of the pandemic is that remote workers should be paid less than physically present workers. The justification for this is that they can live in cheaper areas. Depending on jurisdiction this may be legally problematic if it involves cutting someone’s contractually agreed pay.

But it reveals a deeper problem in the perception that remote workers should be treated differently than physically present workers. What is critical in the new hybrid and distributed workforce is workplace equity:  ensuring that employees are treated equally and fairly, no matter where they are working from.

This means rethinking traditional systems and processes to ensure that everyone feels fully seen, heard and valued. Remote workers mustn’t end up as an afterthought or “second class citizens” in virtual meetings and events. Meeting equality is critical. This means providing everyone with professional grade tools, devices and software so they can collaborate fully and equally.

Ultimately employees are calling the shots right now. This is a painful adjustment for many organisations, trapped in old-school styles of management where they get to set terms and expect employees to gratefully accept.

But the benefits of an engaged, flexible and highly productive workforce are considerable. Flexibility benefits everyone. Managing these changes may be challenging, but those organisations who do so successfully will attract the best people and enjoy a significant competitive edge.

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