Majority of under-25s would quit if forced back to the office full time, poll finds

Employers that ignore shift towards flexible working post-pandemic are taking ‘big risk’, experts warn

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Younger employees are making flexible working a priority since the pandemic, according to new findings. 

The survey, part of ADP’s 2022 People at Work report, found that almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of 18-24-year-olds, and one in six 25-34-year-olds, would consider looking for a new job if their employer insisted on a full-time return to the workplace, compared with just under half (47 per cent) of 45-54-year-olds. 

Across all ages, almost three in five (59 per cent) workers would, or have, considered looking for a new job if their employer asked them to come into the workplace every day.

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The study of almost 1,400 employees also found that seven in 10 workers would like more flexibility as to when they work, and around half would accept a pay cut if it meant improving their work-life balance, or to guarantee flexible working hours.

The desire for flexibility was highest among younger workers, the poll revealed. But three-quarters of parents would prefer to have more flexibility around their working hours, compared to 68 per cent of workers who aren’t parents.

The pandemic “put personal wellbeing and life outside work into even clearer perspective than ever before, and intensified the desire for more amenable working conditions, including greater flexibility, remote working options or better organisational culture,” the report highlighted. 

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Alongside flexibility, workers were also prioritising business ethics; three-quarters (76 per cent) would consider looking for a new job if they found out their employer had an unfair gender pay gap or no diversity and inclusion policy. 

Employers that insist upon workers going back into the office will take a “significant risk” in terms of being able to retain current talent, and attract new talent in the future, warned Gemma Dale, lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University and co-founder of The Work Consultancy.

“It is now clear that employees want a different deal from work – what has been termed the ‘Great Resignation’ can be more truly understood as a ‘Great Reflection’, especially in relation to wellbeing and work-life balance.

“Organisations need to think beyond location and look at their entirety of their flexible working offering in order to attract the best,” she said.

Gemma Bullivant, HR coach and consultant, said she was hearing from leaders that younger workers wanted to be in the office more, and that they could be projecting their own positive experience of working in the office onto younger people.

“Employees of all ages now consider commuting to be a discretionary spend, in both time and money. What was once a necessary part of the working week is now a choice, to be counterbalanced with other factors. In other words, is my journey to the office worth it?  How will I benefit from the time and money spent to get there?’”

Employers who chose to ignore this new reality, she said, were “taking a big risk”. “What is more important now is for employers to fully understand and communicate the reasons why certain expectations are in place. This includes where no choice or flexibility is on offer.

“'Because I say so' is not reason enough, especially in a competitive talent market. ‘Because we have sunk costs in expensive office space’ isn't a reason for the individual, either.

“If an employer wants people in the office to collaborate, make the workplace attractive and conducive to collaboration. But don't insist on a set number of days to do this, because collaboration doesn't work that way either. Let teams determine how this works for them.”

Mandy Garner, managing editor of Working Mums, said: “We know from numerous studies that many people now want to work more flexibly and that, having tried new ways of working during the pandemic, the arguments and assumptions about flexible working are not always valid. 

“Employees are questioning why they need to work in certain ways and employers need to similarly question how people give their best. Covid has shone a light not only on what the office is for, but on who it favours.

“Questioning how we work best – and the structures needed to support that – is the route not just to attracting and retaining workers, but to innovation in a world of work that is constantly changing.

And Melissa Jamieson, chief executive of flexible working consultancy Timewise, said the desire for flexible working was not a “knee-jerk reaction” to the pandemic. “It’s something candidates have prized for years,” she explained.

“Including flexible working options up front in job ads suggests that you are a future-focused company and that’s something candidates find exciting. 

“However, it’s not just about making it a feature of job ads, but also requires line managers to have the capabilities to effectively design jobs in the first place and then to manage flexible teams effectively.”