What Employees Really Want: Flexibility

The chant of the contemporary employee goes something like this: What do we want? Flexibility. When do we want it? Now.

Okay, it is a much quieter revolution. But more and more employees are looking for jobs that don’t force them into a 9-to-5, five-day-a-week routine.

In the U.K., a law just passed that allows all employees who have been working at least 26 weeks the right to request a flexible schedule and have that request formally considered. It is up to the company to say yes. But with many workers, particularly younger ones, willing to walk away from calcified corporate thinking, it may be in a company’s best interest to agree.

Flexible work means more than part-time gigs or shared work arrangements. Employees are looking for arrangements that make them feel more in control of their time and productivity. In a recent survey from Unify, the global communications software firm, employees describe flexibility as follows:

  • Working where I want to work – 47%
  • Working when I want to work – 43%
  • Working in a flatter more collaborative organization – 39%
  • Working on virtual teams that form and disband as needed– 32%

Having control over how you work is a key component of job satisfaction. With only about 30% of American workers saying they feel engaged at work, companies that provide flexible structures will likely be rewarded with happier and more productive employees. And those that don’t might have trouble hiring and retaining the best workers. More than one third of employees in Unify’s survey say they would actually leave their jobs or change employers to go to a job with more flexibility.

Other findings from the survey, part of Unify’s New Way to Work series, include:

  • More than half of all senior managers (director-level and higher) surveyed said their organizations are moving in the direction of more flexible work and expect to be there in the next two years.
  • More than one third of respondents said they would drive initiatives to make flexible working terms a reality in their organization.

Technology has eliminated the need for all workers to be in an office together all the time. Changing corporate attitudes and innovating new organizational systems is taking a little longer.  Too many managers are still not trusting employees enough to allow them to set their own schedules, and fall into the trap of wanting to control their workers. But as with any evolution, some companies will emerge stronger and others will fall by the wayside.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and iVillage.com, among others.