Flexibility in the Workplace

by Cormac Spencer, Consultant and Director with Link Personnel Services

As the figures for the number of people employed in Ireland rises and unemployment falls we find ourselves in a situation where the power in the Employer-Candidate relationship has shifted back in favour of the latter. This comes after years where candidates considered themselves fortunate to be offered an interview in the first place, let alone to be able to negotiate terms.

A lack of quality candidates in some areas has seen a significant rise in wages over the last 18 months. Employers are competing in the traditional way (i.e. offering more money) to get the right person, however this can’t go on forever. Employers must now look outside the box in order to attract the best candidates. Really, they don’t have to look very far outside of the box. Ask candidates and they will tell you that a company that offers flexibility is more attractive than the alternative. A recent survey by IIP in the uk found that employees preferred some level of flexibility in their job to a 3% pay rise, with a number of other studies across the world, identifying flexibility as a highly sought after perk or in some cases the most desirable.

Being flexible as an employer is not as easy as it sounds. For instance, in order to allow people to work from home, companies must be able to invest in the technology to facilitate it, and be able to ensure that workers stay productive. Allowing a new hire flexible working hours can also be difficult because of the effect it can have on the morale of existing staff. If a new employee can start at 09:30, take a 30 min lunch and finish up at 17:15 to catch their train, existing staff will wonder why they can’t avail of the same perks. If an employer has to say no to an existing member of staff, they may find themselves with another role to fill quite soon!

There are challenges to allowing flexibility, but in a highly competitive market, something has got to give. Candidates are attracted by high salaries, but outgoings are just as important as income. If, by taking a better paid job with no flexibility, staff have to pay higher crèche and parking fees, then the value of the extra pay is diminished. Candidates also favour work life balance, so if taking 5% less in their pay packet means being able to drop kids to school and also means not having to sit in traffic for an extra 30 mins a day, many will plump for the job that pays less, but offers more. We see real world examples of the trend toward flexibility all the time in the office. Recently, a candidate accepted a job which offered the hours they wanted over another that paid significantly higher. It made sense for them and candidates are making these judgements every day. Employers simply have to take note.

The employers that offer flexibility should find their employees happier, more loyal and more productive. Businesses today know they face tough competition to find the right candidate to help them succeed, but if they simply rely on one method of attraction – the almighty dollar, they are competing with one arm tied behind their back. Those who focus more on the entire package they offer staff will be able to attract the best.