Born to move: How flexible work arrangements can drive talent retention in times of the great escape

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Farai Mugabe, Content & Research, The HR Congress


Flexible work arrangements have become critical ingredients for talent retention. The challenges of the past 2,5 years have made employees rethink the true meaning of work. Some companies trying to return them to their workplaces, but employees no longer want to come back under the previous conditions of employment.

The Great Resignation has employees leaving workplaces in huge numbers. COVID-19 has made employees reset and rethink the true meaning of work. Some companies laid off employees and are trying hard to return them to their workplaces. But, employees no longer want to come back under the previous conditions of employment. Research by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) indicates that up to 75% of digital workers are looking to change jobs within two to three years.1 One of the key reasons employees change jobs is the absence of flexibility in their working patterns. A Microsoft study found that more than two-thirds of employees wanted flexible working arrangements for them to stay.2 As such, flexible work arrangements are a critical ingredient for success that will help companies as they move out of the Great Resignation towards the Great Escape.3 

What are flexible work arrangements?

Flexible work arrangements refer to arrangements between an employer and an employee that alter the traditional way of working to accommodate an employee’s outside work commitments better. These arrangements usually include altering work hours, work location and work patterns. There are different ways in which employers can create flexible work arrangements. These include the following: 

  • Hybrid working – A situation where employees can rotate between working from the office to working at home.
  • Remote working – An arrangement that allows employees to work anywhere at any given time, rather than at the traditional office.
  • Time in lieu of overtime – Employee overtime can be compensated by allowing employees to take time off to reclaim the extra hours they have worked.
  • Part-time work – A way of working where employees can work for fewer hours than full-time work. Salaries are paid on a pro-rata basis. 
  • Flexible careers – Allowing employees to be able to enter, exit and then re-enter employment with the same organisation. Different reasons why employees do so include child care, going to school and career breaks. 4

Why flexible work arrangements

The workplace has greatly changed as a result of COVID-19. The ‘why’ of work has changed, and employees have different expectations from employers. Now, employees expect an employer who cares. Employees also expect more work-to-life balance and flexibility in the way they work. Deloitte indicates that flexibility is a talent magnet. For employers to attract and retain talent as they recover from the impact of COVID-19 and Great Resignation, Employer Value Propositions should also include flexible working arrangements.5

Despite changed employee expectations, work systems have not yet changed in some setups. Management in some parts of the world still wants employees to report to the office every day. As also seen in the Performance@Work – From Performance Management to Performance Enablement, Alan Colquitt clearly explained how the world has changed and yet performance management systems have not changed. Employer expectations of employees have not yet changed, but they still expect employees to be productive and engaged. For companies to win and retain employees’ hearts, they need to be innovative in how they arrange and organise work. They need to embrace flexibility in relation to the way they arrange work. 6

Employers often resist flexible work arrangements because they are worried about productivity, loss of control, decline in innovation levels, communication challenges and organisational culture dilution. COVID-19 has taught us that it is possible to achieve greater productivity, innovation, fluid culture and communication if employers set the right systems. Advancement in digital systems has shown us that employees can collaborate and communicate better using tools such as Zoom and Teams. Employers can still manage outcomes they want as long as they set the right systems to attain them, despite employees working under flexible work arrangements.7

Flexibility and nomadic talent: Why employees have become nomadic 

  1. Opportunities around the world

Employees have become highly nomadic because they have more options to sell their skills. COVID-19 has opened up the world to be more global. According to the Boston Consulting Group, 63 % of employees are changing jobs because they want better career opportunities.8 Due to the accelerated adoption of digital technology, employees can work for a different company in a different country. Research has shown that digital workers want location flexibility. 68% of employees indicated they would work remotely for a company based in a different country.8 For example, digital nomads can work for a company based in the USA while their current location is in the Netherlands. If their current employer cannot offer flexible work arrangements, employees are more likely to leave for a different one. Employees now have more choice of whom they work for and how they work. 

  1. Change in social values

29% of employees surveyed by the Boston Consulting Group are looking for a work-to-life balance. As indicated before, social values have changed. The ‘why’ of work has changed, and employees expect employers to care about them. Employees also expect more work-to-life balance and flexibility in how they work. To retain staff, employers have to rethink and reset how they manage work patterns.9

  1. Challenging work opportunities

49% of digital employees are looking for a new challenge as per a survey done by the Boston Consulting Group. Doing the same job repeatedly may result in an employee becoming bored with what they do. Employees often leave because of career stagnation.8 There might be less upward career mobility, which hinders employees’ potential. The Harvard business review discusses the rise of a corporate nomad in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. A corporate nomad is an individual who engages and participates part-time in geographically dispersed work and projects within the employer’s network. If employers could have flexible work arrangements that would allow employees to take challenging work opportunities outside their day-to-day work, they could retain staff.10 In other setups, companies are now focusing more on internal talent mobility programs that allow employees to work in different projects while maintaining their normal jobs Such an arrangement will allow employers to keep their staff, engage them, and retain them.11 

  1. Time to pursue their own interests outside work

The Harvard Business Review discusses the rise of a corporate nomad in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Outside work, employees also have their own passions. Some employees have a passion for traveling, and if they get flexible arrangements that allow them to work for an employer while pursuing their own passions, they will accept it. Therefore, if they are to retain critical talent, employers need to explore ways they can allow employees to pursue their passions while not affecting productivity.10

One of the reasons why businesses are created is to generate profit and tangible results. Companies can still get the right numbers despite employees having flexible work arrangements, such as location flexibility and working hour flexibility. Instead of managing time and attendance, business leaders should manage outcomes. If they do so, they will be able to retain today’s nomadic talent and keep it engaged. 

1Up to 75% of digital workers are looking to change jobs within two to three years, by Boston Consulting Group, Boston Consulting Group

2More than two-thirds of staff want flexible working to stay, Microsoft reveals, by Microsoft News Centre UK, Microsoft

3Leading@Work – Reimagining Leadership and Coaching for results, by Mihaly Nagy, HR Congress

4Flexible work, by Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Australian Government

5Workplace Flexibility: Take control of letting go, by Deloitte, Deloitte

6Performance@Work – From Performance Management to Performance Enablement, by Mihaly Nagy, HR Congress

7Apple employees openly criticize management over work from home policy, by Farai Mugabe

 8Decoding the digital talent challenge, by Rainer Strack, Orsolya Kovacs-Ondrejkovic, Jens Baier, Adam Kotsis, Pierre Antebi and Kate Kavanagh, Boston Consulting Group

9The pandemic has taught us to be closer to our people: Five key predictions for 2022, by Farai Mugabe, HR Congress

10The Rise of the “Corporate Nomad”, by Claudio Fernadez-Araoz, Harvard Business Review

11 Why the Internal Talent Marketplaces are the Future of Talent Management?, by Giorgia Calabria,

Written by: Mihaly Nagy

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