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Flexible work options won’t ‘fall into place’, UL study warns
Pic: Simon Abrams on Unsplash

14 Sep 2021 / employment Print

Flexible working won’t ‘fall into place’, UL study warns

Between one-fifth and one-third of workers in the US and  Britain have considered leaving their jobs – a phenomenon that has been dubbed ‘The Great Resignation’.

In Ireland, almost 40% of respondents to a recent UL survey said they agreed or strongly agreed that 'my future career lies outside of this organisation’.

This changing view of work cuts across multinationals, indigenous Irish companies, SMEs and the public sector.

Shift in priorities

Some are resigning because of a post-pandemic shift in priorities, while others are standing down as a direct result of the way they have been treated by their employers during the pandemic. 

A Microsoft survey of more than 30,000 global workers, concludes that flexible work is here to stay, and that the talent landscape has fundamentally shifted.

“A thoughtful approach to hybrid work will be critical for attracting and retaining diverse talent,” Microsoft WorkLab has said.

Best of both worlds

That survey showed that workers craved the best of both worlds – over 70% want flexible remote-work options to continue, while over 65% also want some in-person time with their teams.

In the US, April saw more than four million people quit their jobs – the biggest spike on record – while a study of workers from HR software company Personio in Britain and Ireland showed that 38% planned to quit within six months. 

More than half of the respondents to the Personio study who were planning to quit wanted to do so because of a reduction in benefits, a worsening work-life balance, or a toxic workplace culture.

Feeling valued

Employees want to move to where they feel valued, the researchers found, and will take a pay cut in order to do so.

Mass resignations were especially evident in service and retail jobs. Just under 650,000 American retail workers quit in the month of April alone.

The UL survey findings identify some key areas of concern for organisations.

Most workers valued flexibility around their working hours, with some reporting an increase in the sense of value and loyalty they have towards their organisation. The role of managers is crucial in this regard, the authors say.

Many employees, however, feel a sense of disconnect from the organisation, and report reduced levels of wellbeing.

There are also mixed findings on the impact of home working (and the pandemic challenge, generally) on work productivity.

Managers told UL researchers that they were concerned about the need to review and adapt existing human resources’ policies and practices to help them lead and manage their teams through this new way of working.

Flexible approach

Throughout, the findings show a clear expectation that working life will now shift in line with the social need to create and sustain a ‘new world of work’, with a more flexible approach.

Overall, 69% of employees would prefer a blend of working from home and being onsite, while 74% of employees have been told that this blended approach will continue into the future.

UL points out that some of the findings point to a lack of clarity around how new ‘flexible working options’ (FWO) will operate in practice. 

This shows the need for organisational-level intervention since, while FWOs have many benefits, they will have a significant impact on the business operating model 

Leadership challenges

“Leading a more remote or agile workforce is a new direction for many in leadership positions, and its impact on business operating models should not be underestimated,” the study says.

Bottom-up feedback, leadership strategy reviews, ongoing clear and consistent top-down communications, and planning for how changing work practices will be policy-driven, implemented in practice, and then supported by new management approaches, resources and training solutions, will all be required, the study says.

Assumptions that everything will fall into place are to be avoided, the study warns.

Leaders and managers will have to question the organisation’s work culture, leadership and management style, the study says.

Any sudden shift in organisational norms needs to be discussed in full if the new FWO policies and practices are to be successfully implemented.

The right balance

FWOs present challenges, such as finding the right life-work balance, dealing with social isolation, and coping with decision-making and problem-solving alone.

Existing wellbeing initiatives may only be available on-site, and it will be important for organisations to view wellbeing as a key strategy for this new world of work, the study says. 

This will require new and innovative wellbeing interventions, management development to promote and implement them, and ongoing employee engagement and review to ensure they are having the appropriate impact.


Productivity may be affected by returning to an environment with more interruptions, some responses say, while others feel returning to the workplace will enhance productivity due to less distractions in the home.

Employees also feel that if teams are split between home and onsite, then there may be an unfair distribution of the workload to those in direct contact with their managers.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland