Slipping through the net

Timewise research shows that two in five full-time workers in the UK would like the chance to work flexibly. Heather Greig-Smith looks at the role recruiters can play in making this a reality and asks if the sector is fulfilling its duty to businesses.

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Fish Net 380 istockOnly a small proportion of job vacancy advertisements state whether flexible working is a possibility. In spite of that, according to Timewise research, 91% of managers would be willing to talk to candidates about flexibility, and say that nearly half of their roles could be filled by talented flexible workers.

Employers’ failure to advertise openness to flexibility means they are missing out on key talent and unwittingly causing confusion amongst candidates. Previous Timewise research found that more than half of those applying  for jobs feel nervous about asking for flexibility and 42% said they felt it would damage their chances of securing the role. Many are opting out before even applying.

Karen Mattison, Co-founder of Timewise, says: “Employers are having to fight harder for talent and yet, by playing their cards too close to their chests when it comes to alternative working structures, they miss a key advantage. Talented and skilled people are actively searching for workplaces that offer a more modern approach.”

Recruitment barrier?

Recruiters have a part to play in tackling this agenda. Candidates report being discouraged by recruitment or HR professionals when the managers looking for workers would in fact consider part time or remote working. Deborah Jones, Director of Competition for the Financial Conduct Authority, says she nearly didn’t apply for the role she now job shares because of a misunderstanding with the recruiter over how the role could be worked.

Kevin Green, Chief Executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, acknowledges there is more to do. However, he says the industry is now working to convince clients of the benefits of flexible working. “We should be the champions of flexible working. People who work in a flexible way tend to outperform from a productivity point of view and tend to stay longer and are more loyal. It’s not just about attracting talent but retaining it.”

He says views are changing rapidly, even in the last couple of years. Some of this is the result of skills shortages, forcing employers and recruiters to be creative in the way they search for talent. “I do accept that in terms of part time working there is more to do,” he adds.

Recruiters should be helping with job design, explaining the benefits to line managers and challenging assumptions on how roles can be undertaken. “If you find a really capable person, quite often you can negotiate a 3-4 day week, employers are normally quite open to that. But when an external recruit is coming to a job previously done by a full-time employee, there is more convincing to do,” says Kevin.

He refutes the suggestion that fee structures, where recruiters are rewarded more for securing a full-time employee, are the problem. “Recruiters are now much more interested in building long-term relationships with employers. They recognise it’s in their interests to give the client the right skills and capability to do the job.”

Senior level flexibility

Managers surveyed for the Timewise research said that offering flexible roles is harder in more senior positions. Only 30% said their organisation was open to flexibility for managerial job-level vacancies, 14% for director-level openings and 9% for leadership positions.

However, Laura Sanderson, Partner at executive search firm The Zygos Partnership, says flexible working can be a good solution when recruiting at a senior level. “A typical situation where flexible working can make sense is where a client needs exceptional talent but is not able to afford that on a full-time basis, or there is a particular person who is so good they can do it in fewer days and we can make the case for that.”

She gives the example of a financial services business in difficulty that was able to secure a top-notch CEO who wanted to work part time.

Any request to work flexibly is about making a business case, she adds. “As an industry we are client-driven but any adviser worth their salt should be challenging their clients about what the best thing is for their business. Sometimes that can mean coming to a flexible agreement with someone.”

Ultimately finding the right person for a role is the most important consideration. The recruitment industry and managers need to open their eyes to the full range of possibilities. The workplace is changing and failing to adapt means being left behind.