Generation Flexible

Almost 1/3 of New Zealanders currently work in non-traditional ways – This means something other than a 40- hour week in an office or building… and this phenomenon (de-regulation of work) is here to stay.

There is still some perception that flexible work is the domain of millennials – That for Baby  Boomers and GenX, the notion of flexible working is a relatively new concept, and while it would be nice to have, it isn’t the deal breaker that it is for younger workers.  There is even a widely held belief that it is the younger workforce who is forcing the hand of employers to make the change!

Our research suggests that it isn’t so simple. 

Top reasons for working flexibly

While it is tempting to divide the generations up into distinct cohorts, each with their own unique characteristics – the truth is that there is much more that binds workers across the generational spectrum than there is that divides them.  This is particularly true when it comes to the desire to attain the ever elusive “work/life balance” that is so revered by workers across industry, even if the reasons for wanting that flexibility are different across the generational spectrum:

For both men and women, the top three reasons for seeking flexible work design in order of importance are:

  1. Caring for family members
  2. Personal hobby’s and pursuits
  3. Health issues

The Generational Spectrum

When we look at how this plays out across the generational spectrum, we see some interesting trends.

Not surprisingly, it is Generation X, sandwiched between elderly parents and growing families who have indicated ‘caring responsibilities’ as the strongest driver for wanting flexible work.  However, what is surprising is that 28% of millennials and 36% of Baby Boomers also have this need.

When it comes to needing flexibility to pursue personal hobby’s, it is the Millennials leading the way, followed closely by Baby Boomers. It seems that Gen X’ers lag behind considerably in this arena – probably due to the fact that they are pretty well occupied with caring for others. Contrary to the popular perception that Millennials are in it for themselves, almost a quarter of them cited volunteer and community work as the reason for wanting flexibility!

Interestingly it appears that the surge in entrepreneurial activity is being led by Boomers, 21% of whom expressed a desire to have the flexibility to pursue other business interests. For both Millennials and Gen X’ers the number was considerably lower (14%).

When it comes to the need for flexibility for health reasons, not surprisingly, Baby Boomers lead the way (24%).  But what is more surprising is that Millennials are next in line in this category with 14% of them citing personal health issues as a reason for needing flexibility, compared to 9% for Gen X.

Closing Thoughts

Whatever the reasons for wanting flexibility, it appears to be a universal requirement in today’s workforce. Indeed, when we asked the question...

“If you were offered an equivalent role, but on a flexible basis, would you leave your current employer”?
–  Overall 68% of respondents indicated that they would, with Gen X’ers leading the way at 71%.

It makes a strong case for thinking more broadly about the issue across your multi-generational workforce.  Our research shows that the workers most interested and invested in flexible work are in the 31 – 45 year age group – the very cohort that will likely make up the leadership bench of tomorrow. The successful integration of flexible work therefore should be considered as much a sustainability issue as it is an attraction and engagement tool.

Action Points

How to move the flexibility conversation forward in your organisation:

  1. Recognise that flexible work design is something that all generations of workers want, albeit for different reasons.
  2. Your middle managers – the people who will become your future leadership team have the greatest need to flex their time between work and personal issues.
  3. Equip your people leaders to have the right conversations.  It’s not about your organisation having all the answers, it is about being open to the discussion and giving it a go.
  4. Making it work in your organisation requires moving from an “under the table arrangement” viewed as a special concession, to an organisation-wide and systemic way of working, where both employee and business needs are carefully considered.

The prize for getting it right is better talent, more engaged employees and higher productivity.  Organisations who have done this well, have seen their turnover statistics reduce – They also know first-hand that flexibility as an engagement tool, outstrips money and professional development! 

Written by Carol Brown – CEO Diversitas


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