Working from home may help recruitment but won’t stop resignations, new research finds

Organisations looking to stem the tide of the ‘great resignation’ shouldn’t rely on flexible working options alone to retain their top talent, according to new research, which reveals that working from home (WFH), flexible working hours and even four-day workweeks won’t necessarily be enough to keep employees onboard.

HR software provider CIPHR conducted a survey of over 330 British employers last month to discover how the increasingly competitive talent market has affected their staff retention and recruitment drives over the past twelve months. Based on the results, nearly three-quarters (73%) of employers have experienced an increase in employees voluntarily resigning and 71% have found it more challenging to recruit new employees.

Organisations with between 251 and 5,000 employees appear to be struggling the most in terms of recruitment and retention, with 83% reporting an increase in employee resignations and 77% finding it more challenging to recruit. In comparison, only half of smaller employers (those with between 26 and 50 employees) say the same, with 55% experiencing an increase in voluntary resignations and 51% stating that recruitment is more of a challenge.

Employers who have chosen or are able to offer their staff the option to work from home – either fully remote or on a hybrid basis – have more positive news to share when it comes to recruitment. Only 51% of employers whose staff mostly work from home (60% to 100% of the working week) say they have found it more challenging than usual to recruit over the past year. In comparison, that figure rises to 71% for employers whose staff work onsite at a workplace 60% to 100% of the time (that’s at least three days or more for full-time workers).

Employers with staff working 100% remotely are also three times more likely to report having found it easier than usual to hire new employees over the past year, when compared to employers with staff working 100% onsite at their workplace (27% compared to 8%).

When it comes to retention, however, it’s not so clear-cut. Over four-fifths, (82%) of employers with employees who always work from home say they’ve seen an increase in resignations, compared to 70% of those with some form of hybrid workforce (their staff work remotely 20% to 80% of the time) and just 54% of employers with employees who never work from home. The latter – employers whose employees never work from home – are those most likely to report a reduction in the proportion of employees voluntarily resigning over the past year (15% of employers, compared to a 9% average across all employers).

Notably, employers who offer various flexible working arrangements – such as flexible working hours, flexible working location, or a four-day workweek – are still significantly impacted by increased employee resignations and recruitment challenges. For example, 71% of employers who offer flexible working hours say it’s more challenging to recruit, and 70% say resignations have risen. For employers who offer a four-day working week, it’s 73% and 70% respectively.

Telecommunications, scientific and technical services, publishing, government and public administration, broadcasting, and human resources are among the industries reporting significant increases in the number of employees voluntarily resigning over the past year.

Are employees in the driving seat?

CIPHR’s findings back the idea that many employees and job candidates are re-evaluating their careers – and taking more control over how and where they wish to work. The massive upheaval of the pandemic has prompted many individuals to question what they want from their jobs – and, as a result, more employees are prepared to go out and get it.

As part of the survey, 250 employers were asked whether they agreed that ‘employees and job seekers are in the driving seat when it comes to negotiating salaries, benefits and flexible working’. Two-thirds (66%) of those polled said they did.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the employers that are most likely to think that the employer-employee power dynamics have shifted in their employees’ (existing and future) favour are those that have reported recruitment challenges and say that resignations have risen (78% of employers, compared to 50% of employers who say it’s been the same or easier than usual to recruit/retain staff).

Over three-quarters of employers working in hospitality and foodservices, legal services, and the arts, entertainment or recreation (86%, 83% and 77% respectively) believe that employees and job seekers are ‘in the driving seat’. Conversely, only around half of employers working in the automotive industry, retail trade, healthcare and social assistance, and shipping and distribution (20%, 31%, 50% and 50% respectively) think the same.

Commenting on the results, Claire Williams, Chief People Officer at CIPHR, says: “Over the past two years there have been fundamental changes to the ways that we work that will remain permanently. During the peak of the pandemic, many people made the cautionary decision to stay in their current roles and with their current employers, wherein ‘normal’ circumstances they may have considered alternative employment.

“Now, as we come out of the pandemic, huge numbers of employees have been on the move. While this may level off somewhat as a result of uncertainties around the global economy, ultimately employees are, in many ways, the ones navigating the direction of travel.

“There are still far more vacancies than available candidates in some industries, which means employers need to be flexible in their approach and consider a wider range of ways to make their organisation attractive to their current workforce, as well as future talent and prospective candidates.

“Most people don’t resign from an organisation for just one reason. They can leave due to many reasons, such as career and development opportunities, management behaviour, salaries and reward, stress, and work-life balance – every individual has their own list. Similarly, most job hunters don’t pick their future employer for one reason alone and with the buoyancy of the current job market, they are in a prime position to be more selective in, not just the role they want, but the sort of organisations they want to work for.

“Employers need to ensure they focus on communicating their organisation’s values, purpose, and culture to differentiate them from the pack, and that they engage and listen to their employees and act on their feedback, wherever possible, to mitigate increased turnover. There is no one-size-fix-all for ‘the great resignation’ but helping your employees feel valued and happy is a great place to start.”

CIPHR conducted an online survey of 332 UK employers between 18-26 February 2022. Over half (51%) of those polled work for large organisations, with 49% working for SMEs (with 26 to 250 employees).

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