The big talent shift? Another blog post on flexible and hybrid work.

There’s been a lot of talk about shifts this last year or so.  The shift to homeworking.  The predicted shift to hybrid.  The unprecedented (of course) shift to online meetings.

I think we should expect another.  The big talent shift. 

I’m going to go old school theory for a minute.  Henry Mintzberg in ‘Power In and Around Organisations’ said that every participant within a system has three options at any one time.  These options are:

Exit – leave

Voice – stay and change the system

Loyalty – stay and work as expected

So if we aren’t happy with our workplace lot, we can resign and go someplace else that might be better, advocate to make a change which may or may not work out, or stay and put up with it. 

In the past, there was a problem with adoption of flexible working.  The tech was there.  Remote working was perfectly possible.  The experts had been predicting it for decades (Charles Handy was talking about it in 1983, pondering at the same time why British Rail didn’t also put ‘terminals’ on trains).  Despite the many ‘the future is remote’ predictions, the innovation adoption curve was progressing at a snails pace.  We were stuck at the early adopter stage.  Employees who wanted flexible working therefore had the same three choices Mintzberg proposed.  Stay and put up with it.  Argue for change (good luck with that). And finally, leave. But the companies offering flex were then still few and far between, and the options elsewhere limited).  So most people went for the stay and put up with it option, perhaps hoping that one day they’d work for a more enlightened manager that might just step outside the 9-5.

Reader, like so much else since March 2020, this too has been disrupted.  Every day, another company is stating that their future is remote.  That their people will only need to come into the office for some of the week.  The ‘leave’ option just got much, much more realistic.

According to new research from McKinsey, 30% of respondents to a recent survey said that they would consider looking for a new employer if they were required to return to the office full time. This isn’t the only research looking at the possibility of future moves.  New data from Microsoft indicates that 41 percent of the global workforce is likely to consider leaving their current employer within the next year, with 46 percent planning to make a major pivot or career transition.

For me, this is part people wanting more flex, and part people wanting a whole different life.  I’ve blogged about this before.  How living through something so huge, so significant – and what the academic literature calls a ‘crucial life experience’, changes our intrinsic motivations.  How we may be fundamentally changed after the event, seeking new purpose and meaning from our lives and our work.  

I believe these forces may combine.  The personal desire for something different, the realisation that remote is not only possible but preferable, the possibilities delivered by remote in terms of where and how we live, plus the increasing availability of flexible working.  Together, these may lead to more leavers and movers.  A sizeable talent shift.  Even in the face of general uncertainty and economic instability, employees making new choices and deciding staying and putting up with it, is no longer an option.

Those companies that are not seriously considering remote or hybrid strategies, face a serious talent risk.

This is just one more thing for HR and business to add to the list of things to consider in the weeks and months ahead.  Retention, engagement, talent acquisition – and what these look like in a post pandemic, more flexible, world. 

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