Businesses suffering ‘commitment issues’ on flexible working

  • 79% of companies intend to make moderate to extensive hybrid work changes, but only 40% have communicated their plans to workforce
  • Lack of clarity has created disconnect with employees who want flexible working arrangements
  • 90% of employees want flexibility, but 35% of employers want a full return to office post-pandemic 

The vast majority of employers around the world have not yet communicated any plans for the post-COVID-19 pandemic workplace, fueling a potential disconnect with employees who are seeking permanent new ways of working, according to the EY Work Reimagined Employer Survey 2021.

The survey canvassed more than 1,000 business leaders across nine countries and 25 industry sectors, examining their views on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the workplace, including their perspectives on the risks and opportunities of hybrid working. The findings were then compared with the results of the recent EY Work Reimagined Employee Survey 2021.

The findings show that 79% of employers are planning to make moderate to extensive changes, in order to allow more hybrid working, reflecting the views of 90% of employees, who say they want flexibility in when and where they work. However, only 40% have communicated these plans, creating a potential disconnect with employees on crucial issues such as flexibility, culture, and productivity.

The remaining employer respondents are either still planning or waiting to communicate any decisions about their new ways of working – which will in part reflect the very different stages of the COVID-19 pandemic around the world.

Liz Fealy, EY Global People Advisory Services Deputy Leader and Workforce Advisory Leader, says:

“Employers have heard loud and clear that employees are demanding flexibility, in the post pandemic working world. The biggest danger facing most employers is that they fail to provide clarity around their hybrid work and return to office plans. Many organizations seem to have commitment issues around flexible working – they know they need to adapt but are holding back on implementing any firm plans.

“We know that many employees are prepared to quit if they don’t get the flexibility they need and so employers who fail to move with the times do risk losing their people. Organizations that want to flourish need to ensure that their plans are well defined and communicated, and that they balance business and employee priorities in refining these plans to help create a win-win for the business and the workforce.”

Despite the overwhelming recognition of the importance of flexible working; the survey reveals that 35% of employer respondents want all of their employees to return to the office full time post-pandemic. While some of these employers are in industries that require on-site presence, there are other organizations that can work virtually, but want it to happen in person.

Fifty-one percent of employer respondents say that they want to decrease business travel post-pandemic, but 66% of employee respondents say they want it to resume.

On key issues relating to culture and productivity there are also notable disconnects. Almost three quarters (72%) of employer respondents believe that workplace culture has improved since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to 48% of employee respondents; and 82% of employer respondents believe productivity can now be measured from anywhere, compared to 67% of employee respondents.

Risks on the horizon

Employers who took part in the survey were also asked about risks beyond physical health, that they believe may come with the shift toward hybrid working. Almost half (45%) say one of the biggest risks will be their ability to establish fairness and equity among employees when some jobs require a fixed schedule or location, creating a ‘have and have not’ dynamic based on roles. Forty-three percent say a key concern is how to retain talent and offer flexibility; and 40% point to hybrid working as a risk to culture, creativity and collaboration.

Other risks identified include developing next generation talent (39%), establishing and measuring productivity (36%), upskilling/reskilling employees for new ways of working (30%), adopting new technologies to support hybrid working (28%), supporting employee well-being (28%)

In making these preparations, workplace safety is also a major consideration. The survey reveals that 43% will require staff to be fully vaccinated before returning to the office. A similar proportion (42%) plan to incentivize vaccination, for example, through paid time off for employees, subject to legislative requirements.

Liz Fealy added:

“These various and complex risks make it harder for employers to define their back to office plans for a diverse workforce and leave many exposed to the possibility that employees will move to companies where flexibility is clearly implemented.”