Australian knowledge workers want flexible schedules more than professionals in any other nation, according to a new Slack report outlining how businesses can change their policies to attract and retain much-needed talent.
In its latest Future Forum Pulse report, released Wednesday, the workplace messaging provider found knowledge workers with little or no ability to set their own working schedules are 2.6 times as likely to seek a new job in the coming year compared to workers with movable hours.
That finding could have significant implications at home, as just 3.5% of Australian workers said they want a pre-set and fixed schedule, compared to a global average of 5.9%.
Sheela Subramanian, Future Forum vice president, says employment flexibility now ranks second behind compensation in determining job satisfaction.
That sense of ‘flexibility’ now extends to the timing of work, not just the location, she told SmartCompany.
“Ultimately, it’s about choice and trust,” Subramanian said. “And people want to feel like their leaders trust them to do the right thing.
“Rather than feeling like they’re measured by the number of hours they work in the office, or the speed at which they respond to a message, they want to be measured by the value that they’re actually creating, rather than some of the measures that have determined job mobility in the past, and as a result, have made work culture inequitable for many groups of people.”
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Employee sentiment waning as office schedules return
The survey, conducted between January and February, covered a period where many Australian workplaces reopened their offices — and intensified their push for employees to work on-site to relatively fixed schedules.
That return to the office coincided with a marked downturn in employee sentiment, Slack found. Australian respondents said their work-life balance had worsened, reporting an index of 20.1 compared to 26.5 in November.
Their feelings about stress and anxiety at work worsened, too. Respondents ranked their ability to manage those challenges at 9.6 points, down from 17.4 in November.
“So looking at this data, looking at the overall sentiment … as an executive looking at this, it’s really important for flexibility to be the foundation for return to office policies,” Subramanian said. “And what we’re seeing from the data is that it’s not necessarily the case globally.”
The preference for flexible work is even clearer among young parents, many of whom may have started families when work-from-home policies made caregiving slightly easier.
The percentage of working mothers who said they want to be flexible in where they work rose to 89% in February, the highest rating of any Future Forum Pulse report to date. 81% of working fathers said the same.
This desire for flexibility extends to timing, too, Subramanian says.
“Over the last two years, many people have been able to fit in a walk during the day as they as they work from home, or have been able to pick up their kids from school,” she said.
“And early in the pandemic, or the first year of the pandemic, they were able to be a caregiver. And in many cases, they were able to achieve work-life fluidity where their employers were understanding enough to say, ‘You do work, what works best for you, and focus on those outcomes, and also be able to live your life’.
“And so there’s been this shift in terms of the pre-pandemic mentality of ‘How does my life fit into work?’, to ‘How does work fit into my life?'”
Small businesses urged to trust employees
As the battle for talent intensifies, Subramanian said small businesses can retain employees by trusting them to work outside of a traditional 9 to 5 schedule.
Business leaders should ask themselves if work necessarily needs to occur at set times, or if they can strike flexible, team-level agreements regarding when and where people collaborate and organise meetings, she added.
“I would encourage small business leaders to think more about like, ‘What are the norms that we’ve been operating on? What are they based on? And is this an opportunity to rethink when we work, what our expectations are in terms of location, as well as the behavioral guardrails that we can put forward to our team members’, [while] also encouraging them to work on their own terms.”
A focus on the ‘Great Resignation’ has led into a ‘Great Rethink’, she says, focusing on “the role of work in our lives, leading with trust, and emphasising that it’s critical for leaders to keep their employees engaged”.
You can read the full report here.