Flexible working options are no longer regarded as an added benefit

Flexible working options are now expected to be a standard given of employment

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Summary

Flexibility as a skill

Flexible attitudes

Research highlights

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Key take-away

STEM talent no longer regards flexible working as a benefit, but as an assured condition of employment

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Key statistic

Asked what will be most important to them when searching for new roles, 54% (2,709) of all respondents rate flexible working options as second only to payments/benefits

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Summary

STEM employers will need to offer the flexible working options that candidates consider a standard requirement of employment, rather than as an added benefit, in order to secure the right talent. Even with higher salaries on the table, competition for the best candidates remains fierce. A bold tick in the salary box alone will not of itself assure that a job offer is accepted.

It’s often assumed that the rise of flexible working is linked to remote working models most organisations adopted during the lockdowns imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, many had already been gradually, and cautiously, transitioning towards flexible working models for some time before 2020.*

The pandemic has consolidated workforce interest in flexible working. Many workers, previously nervous to take the plunge for fear of giving the impression that they were not fully committed to their jobs, experienced its appeal for the first time. There is plenty of evidence of the growth in popularity of flexible working among workforces, however, as recent studies from Forbes, Microsoft and People Management have shown.

Asked what will be most important to them when searching for new roles, 54% (2,709) of STEM Survey respondents rate flexible working options as second only to payments/benefits (Figure 3). There is some indication (Figure 5) that candidates’ preference between working remotely and the office is influenced by the nature of the job.

*In many countries all full-time staff have had the legal right to request flexible working from their employers, who must explain why any requests are not allowed.  

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Flexibility as a skill

An Ipsos study for the World Economic Forum (WEF) backs up our findings. Not only did a majority of respondents want flexible working to become the norm – almost 30% said they’d consider looking for another job if required to return to the office full-time.

The WEF further predicts that by 2025 an aptitude for flexible working will become a top 10 job skill looked for by tomorrow’s employers, alongside active learning resilience, and stress tolerance. This could introduce a new skill vector: while many current and future STEM staff might expect and have a right to flexible working, the ability to do so successfully will be evaluated as a professional competence.

‘Employees want control of where, when and how they work, and expect businesses to provide options’

The trend goes further than simply approving an inevitability. According to another study by Microsoft, flexibility and hybrid work will ‘define’ the post-pandemic workplace. “Employees want control of where, when and how they work, and expect businesses to provide options,” Microsoft says. “The decisions business leaders [now] make to enable flexible work will impact everything from culture and innovation to how organisations attract and retain top talent.”

The ‘keep flexible’ message is getting through to business leadership. Influential employers like Google, Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook), Microsoft, PayPal and Salesforce are among companies that have extended remote working arrangements (as SThree has also done). For others to attract in-demand expertise, such as Salesforce developers and data scientists, they will have little choice but to follow suit.

A key message that comes out of this inflexion point for employers is that STEM talent no longer regards flexible working as a benefit – they now regard it as an assured condition of employment.

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Flexible attitudes

As mentioned in the Salary and Benefits section, in some countries flexible working options were rated higher than salaries/benefits as the most important factor when respondents were searching for new roles, but often with narrow margins of difference – for example, Austria (61% to 59%) and the UK (64% to 61%). In Spain they were rated as of equal importance (69% to 69%).

“While the pandemic clearly influenced uptake of flexible working, it has not changed its essential meaning,” says SThree CEO Timo Lehne. “However, the pandemic has elevated employees’ consideration of flexible working as it applies to them, and therefore its importance in the recruitment process.”

Flexible working figures

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