We have a disconnect. Employers and employees are not on the same page about work, and they’re demands seem incompatible. Economic conditions are in flux and some companies are watching their spending and curtailing costs, often through layoffs. 

Conversely, some industries are struggling to fill open job positions. The current labor shortage means that there are 1.9 job openings for every unemployed worker. Even though remote, flexible work is in high demand, companies still seem to expect a full return to office. 

In order to reduce the gap between employer and employee expectations, companies will need to get creative in how they hire–and finally get rid of traditional and rigid employment structures.

Employee and employer disconnect

According to Future Forum, two thirds of executives say that their companies’ post pandemic plans are happening only at the exec level, without much consideration for, or input from, employees. Knowledge workers say that their employers aren’t being “transparent about their future-of-work plans,” making them more than 3x as likely to say they’ll definitely seek a new employer in the coming year.

Trust and transparency

Why does trust matter so much? Companies with high trust levels outperform companies with low trust levels by 186%. If transparency was practiced at all levels, 28% of employees say that they’d extend their tenure at a company. 

Employee satisfaction depends on setting fair and transparent expectations. When it comes to the office, executives aren’t practicing what they preach. Non-executive employees are nearly twice as likely as executives to be working from the office five days a week. 

Because of this, non-executives’ work-life balance scores are now 40% worse than their bosses, plummeting at 5x the rate over the last quarter. Non-executives are also reporting more than twice the level of work-related stress and anxiety as executives. If your organization believes that being in the office five days a week improves collaboration, your leadership team should be on-site with employees too.

What employees want vs what employers want

The disconnect is no longer about COVID safety, fewer people say that Covid is the main reason they want to work from home. Up to 61% of people working from home are doing so because they want to, even if their office is open. And 76% say a preference for working from home is a major reason they’re doing so.

Some employers are unwilling to budge. Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon has said that remote work “is not ideal for us, and it’s not a new normal,” adding that “it’s an aberration that we’re going to correct as quickly as possible.” In March 2022, Goldman Sachs tried to order employees back to the office 5 days a week and, in an act of defiance, only half of their 10,000 workers showed up. 

Unfortunately for CEOs like Solomon, rigid office work policies are driving attrition. Knowledge workers with little to no ability to set their own work hours are 2.6x as likely to look for a new job in the coming year. Attrition is most pronounced among women, people of color, and working parents, especially working mothers, 82% of which say that they want location flexibility

Other companies have no problem adapting. Salesforce announced that job vacancies are now listed by time zone because more than 90% of its staff want to decide themselves where and when they work. As Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and Morgan Stanley seek to force their workers back into the office, Silicon Valley is vying to attract workers that don’t accept the rigid structures of the past.

Traditional hiring no longer works

Recruiting cycles are far too long and responding to candidates can take weeks. Even active candidates are finding communication lacking. HR professionals know this, with only 25% rating their organization as effective in finding and recruiting talent.

There are broken systems, like applicant tracking software that filters through all inbound applications, frequently screening out certain groups like people over 50, veterans, and people who have gaps in their resumes or non-traditional backgrounds. This is just one reason why only 30% of companies fill a vacant role within 30 days.

Working around the labor shortage

Workers aren’t accepting jobs with low wages and it’s creating a labor shortage in the U.S. Federal Chair Jerome Powell said “the labor market is “tight to an unhealthy level” earlier in March, citing the unprecedented imbalance between job openings and available workers. In February, the US had just 0.6 available workers for every opening

Traditional hiring also doesn’t account for short term hiring needs, like coverage for leaves of absences or sabbaticals. In this scenario, you need someone who can get started fast and has the right skills. 

Rather than trying to retain employees, who may find themselves working in roles they didn’t originally get hired for or want, try a hiring model that’s based on projects. Consultants may have a higher hourly cost but when you factor in benefits, taxes, and overhead, full time employees are far more expensive.

Cost saving in an economic downturn

We’re currently in an economic downturn due to a federal reserve rate hike, inflation, and other global issues. Investors may start pulling back on venture capital funding to rebalance their portfolios which will force start ups to reduce their cash burn.

If management teams feel that this economy is set to make their business more money, they’ll aggressively invest in hiring more staff. But when the C-suite is concerned about the future and worried that things may take a turn for the worse, they’ll reign in expenditures.

The pandemic brought a lot of hiring growth. But headcount is going to be harder to justify as valuations decline. Facebook parent company Meta is pausing hiring and scaling down recruitment. Amazon’s CFO told analysts that its warehouses have become “overstaffed,” following a large hiring spree during lockdowns. 

The CEO of Uber recently told staff to “treat hiring as a privilege and be deliberate about when and where we add headcount,” adding, “we will be even more hardcore about costs across the board.” There’s also been a wave of layoffs. Companies like Robinhood, Peloton, Cameo, Wells Fargo, Better.com, and Netflix have all laid off employees this year. 

Companies can benefit from doing away with traditional, hierarchical, and rigid employment and hiring structures. They’re expensive and, by making room for flexibility, companies can do more with their resources and manage costs effectively. 

Interestingly, not all industries have to make these cutbacks. Outside of tech and finance, job seekers still have substantial bargaining power over employers, especially with rising labor costs due to a combination of inflation and the aftermath of the Great Resignation.

Rigidity vs flexibility

Instead of leaders focusing on controlling in-office attendance and rigid scheduling policies, they should be focused on aligning teams around a core purpose. Executives should also lead by example. If they expect people to be in the office, then they should be as well. 

Alternatively, they can join more than 90% of employers who say they’re planning to adopt a hybrid working model for their knowledge workers in 2022. When 9 out of 10 knowledge workers say they want schedule flexibility, demanding employees return to the office will only further exacerbate turnover rates. It’s time to embrace flexibility and trust which leads to happier, more committed employees.

Try to achieve a balance between company control and employee choice. Give each team the autonomy to determine the practices that work best for them. Also, take time to understand how flexible work can support your business objectives. Finally, align your new workplace policies with your core principles. 

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