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Chancellor says in-person working should be the ‘default’

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UK employees spend less time in the office than global counterparts

Flexible-working is the new battleground for talent – with a number of employers and employees at odds with ways of working. The battle lines have been drawn up; one side UK workers, are spending less time in the office than any other country, while on the other is the UK’s Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, strongly urging employees to get back into the office to boost productivity. The clash of the cultures continues.

The conflict between flexible working vs working in the office rages on with no signs of abating. Last month Jeremy Hunt called for working in the office to be the new “default” contradicting the UK worker’s drive to work from home. He believes workers who permanently work from home are missing out on building team spirit and the “water cooler moments,” adding: “There’s nothing like sitting around a table, seeing people face to face.”  While admitting hybrid working had its benefits – especially for those with caring commitments and mobility issues – he worries long term about the “loss of creativity.”

THE RESEARCH

This is backed up by research from Right Management UK arguing 38% of senior business leaders believe remote workers are less likely to spend any time with their senior managers and 26% of senior leaders say hybrid workers are less likely to be considered for promotion.

However, this isn’t a view echoed by all industry leaders, with some believing flexi-working is critical to businesses retaining the best talent and maintaining a competitive edge, Paul Devoy, CEO of Investors in People, said the chancellor was looking at remote and flexible working through a: “Very narrow lens – especially as his opinions on office work bestows some mythical magic on the office.”

According to a recent study; Returning for Good, a Unispace Global Workplace Insights report,  it appears UK employees are firmly in the driving seat when it comes to knowing where and how they want to work – with only 34% of UK employees currently in the office four or more days a week – below the global average of 50%. Despite these comparatively low attendance levels, employees want to reduce the number of days spent in the workplace even further, with just 21% of workers in the UK currently happy to spend four or more days per week in the office.

This data highlights a gaping misalignment between the expectations of employers and employees, with 74% of UK firms expecting increased office attendance compared to only 53% of UK workers expecting to eventually be in the office at least four days a week. In the war for talent, enforcing working from home policies could be greatly damaging for employers with career progression at risk with 75% of businesses stating this is limited for hybrid workers. Some believe hybrid working has a negative impact on not only career progression, but also; pay rises, promotions and bonuses.

With the increasing demand for flexi-working, it appears, the mindset of employees keen to balance their personal and professional lives is unlikely to change – especially during the cost-of-living crisis driving up transport costs, for this reason alone, it makes economic sense to work from home.

Aside from recognising that many frontline workers are unable to work from home – no one can deny that hybrid working is here to stay in the UK – employers can’t push the genie back into the bottle! For working harmony, employers need to adapt and find a compromise which supports both business productivity and staff wellbeing. It comes down to a balancing act between meeting the needs of the business as well as the expectations of the current staff, as well as attracting and retaining the best talent. Rolling back on the flexibility gains seems counter intuitive and a huge step backwards and will certainly hinder an employer’s fight for hard-won talent.

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