Flexible working more important to most employees than a pay rise – People Management poll

Commentators say results indicate a ‘fundamental shift’ in priorities and call on firms to look again at the policies

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Three quarters (77 per cent) of employees say flexible working is more important to them when considering a new role than a pay rise, according to a new LinkedIn poll by People Management.

This compared to 23 per cent who said they would prefer a pay rise, the poll of 1,921 people found.

The results follow a survey by PayFit, which found almost half (46 per cent) of employees would reject a 15 per cent pay increase in favour of retaining workplace flexibility.

The survey of 2,008 UK workers also found that the majority (83 per cent) of those polled felt improvement was needed to their current flexible working policies, while 35 per cent said they were happy with their current policy.

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Molly Johnson-Jones, co-founder and CEO of Flexa, told People Management: “The PayFit poll goes to show that companies can no longer rely on pay alone to attract and retain talent.

“Workers value their personal wellbeing and work-life balance too much to want to commute long distances five days a week and to be chained to 9am-5pm starts and finishes. For others, it’s less about what they want and more about what they need.

“Many workers with different health needs or caring responsibilities are unable to work in office environments or during certain hours, and then there are workers who are simply unable to work well in traditional set-ups. A pay rise won’t change that.”

However, she said: “Flexibility is no replacement for competitive salaries and fair rewards systems.”

Clare Kelliher, professor of work and organisation at Cranfield School of Management, said: “It is really important for employers to take note of what this tells us about employees' value of the opportunity to work flexibly.

“For many it is not just nice to have, but is of sufficient importance that they are prepared to sacrifice some of their income to be able to have an element of control over where and when they work.”

She added: “Employers need to ensure that flexibility policies are fit for purpose. What is offered to employees needs to reflect their needs and preferences if it is to be effective and deliver benefits for employers. 

“Where uptake is low, or low among certain groups in the workforce, this doesn’t necessarily tell us that they don’t want flexible working, but rather it may be that what is offered does not fit their needs.”

Jane Bradshaw-Jones, HR business partner at AdviserPlus, said: “The preference for flexibility over pay signifies a fundamental shift in employee values. Work-life balance, autonomy and control over ways of working are significantly more important to employees than they were before.”

The survey also found that a third (34 per cent) of employees felt uncomfortable requesting flexible working and the same percentage said they wanted clearer guidelines around flexible working.

However, 14 per cent said they believed flexible working hampered their advancement, while 18 per cent were concerned that adopting flexible working methods would raise questions about loyalty to the business.

“Organisations must ensure their policies are people-centric, helping to create a culture of excellence where flexibility enables people to thrive,” Bradshaw-Jones said.

“Designing policies with individual needs in mind can help to drive a positive culture and business success. Avoiding one-size-fits-all approaches and acknowledging diverse personal circumstances are key to empowering employees to make their own choices, which can increase levels of trust.

“Communicating policies clearly and transparently to ensure everyone understands their rights and responsibilities is important and managers should lead by example, helping their teams to feel engaged and empowered however they work.”

Lindsey Milner, content strategist and creative projects at AudienceLink, said: “Our research shows that employees often value flexibility over pay. That’s not to say pay isn’t important, because in a cost of living crisis it is – everyone needs to be compensated fairly.

“Flexibility doesn’t always mean someone works from home or works from home every single week. There are many ways to consider giving your staff the flexibility to thrive in life and work - which ultimately improves retention."

For more on making flexible working a success in your organisation, see the CIPD's guide