Third of employees will quit if flexibility is not continued after lockdown, report finds

Experts say employee sentiment is ‘crystal clear’ and the cost of blanket arrangements far outweighs that of implementing ‘nuanced and flexible’ policies

A third of workers could leave their job if employers do not continue to provide for flexible working beyond the pandemic, a new report has found.

A survey of 2,000 UK workers by Barnett Waddingham found 33 per cent of UK employees could be prompted to seek work elsewhere if their organisation did not allow them to work in the environment they chose – either remotely or in the office.

This included almost a quarter (23 per cent) of employees who said they would bring the issue up with senior leadership but would look for work elsewhere if no action was taken, and more than one in 10 (11 per cent) employees would go straight to looking for work elsewhere.

Another third (33 per cent) said they would raise the issue with management but would not leave the organisation, and 31 per cent said they would take no action.

The poll also found a preference among employees for hybrid working. Just one in 10 (10 per cent) workers wished to return to the office full time, while a similar proportion (12 per cent) said they wanted to work only at home.

In contrast, a quarter (24 per cent) expressed a preference for working mostly from home and sometimes in the office, while one in five (20 per cent) said they were keen to work mainly in the office and sometimes at home. Another quarter (25 per cent) were in jobs that could not be done remotely.

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Full-time employees who had been working at home throughout the pandemic were by far the keenest to continue working mainly from home, with almost half (47 per cent) of this group saying this was their preference.

David Collington, associate and head of benefits consulting at Barnett Waddingham, said employee sentiment was “crystal clear” and employers would be taking a risk by not adopting a flexible approach.

“It’s no use adopting a blanket ‘back to the office’ or ‘only work at home’ policy,” Collington said. “Businesses risk their employees feeling dissatisfied and disillusioned with their company, and in today’s competitive job market, the cost of this decision in recruitment and retention terms far outweighs the cost of a nuanced and flexible policy.”

Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser for resourcing and inclusion at the CIPD, added it was “really important” to carefully consider how to provide more flexible working solutions as lockdown restrictions eased, describing this moment as “real opportunity to change” the generations-old fixed ways of working.

“More flexible working in all its forms can help to attract and retain people with the right skills for the job and can lead to more diverse and inclusive workplaces,” she said. “It can also be good for wellbeing and productivity.”

However, a separate report found that demand for continued remote working exists despite evidence home working has been bad for many people’s health.

A joint report by the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) and Vitality – Healthy hybrid: a blueprint for business – has warned of the crippling physical and mental health impacts caused by lockdown-enforced home working.

The increased number of those working from home in the past year has created what the report calls an “ergonomic timebomb”, with Vitality recording a 28 per cent decrease in the physical activity among its members.

The report cited previous research from Nuffield Health, which found that seven in 10 remote workers said they were experiencing more aches and pains in their back, neck, shoulders, legs and joints; more eye strain; and more headaches. This was despite employees valuing the opportunity to incorporate physical activity working from home.

The Vitality study also found that while more than two in five (44 per cent) remote workers found it easier to manage their mental health and wellbeing as a result of remote working, half (50 per cent) of employees were now anxious about a return to the office.

And while productivity has improved among those working remotely, employees have been working three hours hours longer on average per week, leading to concerns of burnout. As a result, 85 per cent of home workers say taking employee health and wellbeing seriously will be important when thinking about their future career prospects, the study found.

The report recommended organisations consider the health and wellbeing needs of employees in their company risk registers and prioritise them at board level.

It also recommended firms schedule 30 minutes a day for exercise to protect musculoskeletal health, alongside mandatory breaks and ‘right to disconnect’ policies to protect hybrid workers from burnout and physical health issues.

Neville Koopowitz, CEO of Vitality UK, said that it was time for businesses to “reset their approach to health and wellbeing” as more chose to employ hybrid working policies.

“Our report shows that wellbeing and productivity – health and economic competitiveness – are two sides of the same coin,” he said. “In the same way organisations plan for pandemics, climate change and market fluctuations, the last 12 months have taught us that the health of our people is the most valuable asset to recovery and growth.”