The battle for talent remains intense. Flexibility is dictating winners and losers.
Aug 10, 2021
Hiring and wages are rising, but experts say flexibility has emerged as a key factor shaping the labor market — particularly for white-collar jobs.
The job market stayed hot in July and salaries followed suit. But even with pay on the rise, those on the front lines say another factor is having a more significant effect on the battle for white-collar talent: flexibility.
The U.S. added 703,000 private-sector jobs in July, suggesting many employers are still hiring at a brisk pace amid the economic recovery from Covid-19.
The growth is more good news for employees, who continue to have considerable leverage in the job market. That leverage is manifesting itself in higher pay, with private wage and salary earnings growing by 0.9%.
Richard F. Moody, chief economist for Regions Financial Corp., said wage growth is broad based across various industries, which reflects the difficulty employers are having in filling open positions.
While higher pay is a plus, experts say the desire for flexibility continues to be a determining factor for many employees.
A new survey by Keller Augusta, a Boston-based national boutique search firm with offices in New York and South Florida focused on the commercial real estate industry, found 65% of respondents said flexibility is equally as important as salary and benefits, with 12% of respondents actually preferring flexibility over salary and benefits.
Liveops Inc., a provider of virtual call center services, is a company that has experienced the benefits of offering flexibility.
Greg Hanover, CEO of Liveops, said the company’s commitment to flexibility predated the pandemic by years. But Hanover said the past 17 months have opened a lot of eyes for both businesses and employees.
Hanover said companies learned employees can be productive in a remote environment, while workers saw first-hand how increased flexibility can improve work-life balance.
The trend was already happening, but Hanover said Covid-19 accelerated it and put flexibility in the spotlight amid the hot hiring market during the recovery.
As we’ve noted, experts say labor shortages are leading to higher wages in many industries, but Hanover said companies that are trying to throw money at candidates while ignoring their flexibility offerings are making a calculated error – especially with surveys showing many workers would give up a significant raise to work from home permanently.
“I think companies who don’t embrace what’s happening right now — if you don’t provide flexible work — you’re going to miss out on a lot of talent because people will go find those opportunities elsewhere,” Hanover said.
While Hanover believes Covid-19 did accelerate a trend, he anticipates some companies will pull back on the reins as time goes on.
“Companies who can’t figure out how to build and maintain culture in a flexible workforce will revert back to what they know,” Hanover said. “In time, you’ll see people shift back into an office setting because their company is suffering and they don’t know how to address it correctly in a virtual model.”
When Hanover talks with applicants right now, flexibility is at the top of the list by far.
“It’s partly because it’s top of mind from what everybody went through in the last 18 months, but people are just seeing the benefits of having flexible work and what it allows for balancing their life,” Hanover said. “Just being able to get that time back. Time is probably the most valuable commodity.”
With hiring still at a steady pace, turnover remains a top threat for employers.
Experts say companies that try to force one-size-fits-all solutions on their workforces or job candidates are asking for a challenge.
“Companies need to avoid putting up arbitrary barriers,” said Amina Moreau, CEO and co-founder of Radious.pro, an online marketplace for rentable home-office and meeting spaces.
After the past 17 months have proven remote work can be productive, Moreau said companies forcing everybody back seems unnecessary, given the circumstances.
“Some employees even find it insulting,” Moreau said. “If there’s one thing not to do, it’s to be inflexible.”
Moreau said the economy might be entering a transition phase where companies are going to have to attract the types of people they want.
That may mean some companies are willing to spend time and money to find those who are willing to come to the office every day.
The strategy may work for some businesses, but it could also prove problematic amid the turnover tsunami.
“Many are not believing it until it actually happens to them and they have employees leave to go work virtually for another company,” Hanover said.