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The flex hiring mistake many employers are making (and how to fix it)

As the fight for talent continues, employers are turning to flex hiring to give them the edge – but it’s only worth doing if you do it right. Here’s how.

There’s little doubt that the much-predicted skills shortage has arrived. A devastating combination of factors, including Brexit and Covid-19, have led to a recruitment crisis from which no sector is immune, leaving, 70% of businesses facing difficulties hiring staff.

Here at Timewise, we’ve long been clear that offering flexible working is a vital way to gain an edge in this fight for talent. And the business world agrees, with the British Chambers of Commerce’s Jane Gratton noting that “Adopting more remote and flexible working patterns will help firms attract skills from a wider talent pool.”

But while forward-looking employers are listening, and trying to be as open and inclusive as possible in terms of the flexibility they offer, there’s a danger that their approach may be putting candidates off.

Offering generic flexibility isn’t as appealing as you might think

Our recent research report, Gaining an Edge in the Fight for Talent, set out to show leaders, recruitment professionals and employer brand specialists how to position their organisations to attract a diverse, inclusive workforce. We surveyed candidates registered on Timewise Jobs, exploring their attitudes towards job seeking and their behaviours during the process.

Some of what we learned wasn’t news to us; the fact that flexibility is more important than salary for many, for example, or that part-time was the arrangement of choice for our candidates (with 80% wanting to work four days per week or fewer). And these are all factors that employers should consider when planning a recruitment strategy.

But what we weren’t expecting to hear was this: One in 10 of our candidates would not apply for a job that is advertised as flexible in generic terms, and a further 3 in 10 would be cautious about doing so. Which means that as many as 40% of applicants are likely to be put off by a vaguely worded flexible offer.

Candidates need clarity to feel confident about applying

So why is this? Well, firstly, candidates are concerned that unspecific wording may be what we call ‘flex washing’; that is, paying lip service to flexibility to attract applications, but not necessarily offering it in a genuine way. Additionally, candidates who have specific needs, such as only being able to work four days per week, may be unwilling to waste time applying for a job that doesn’t obviously match. And some also fear that they may be discriminated against if they request a specific job pattern that hasn’t been mentioned up front.

Instead, candidates tell us, employers who want to encourage applications by offering flexibility need to do so visibly and clearly. This means:

  • Being upfront about offering flexibility. 3 in 10 candidates told us they would skip past an advert if flexibility didn’t appear in the job title or first few sentences.
  • Being specific about the kind of flexibility that is on offer. You don’t have to commit to an exact pattern or timescale, but be clear about the type; it’s fine to say, for example, that the role is designed for 3-4 days per week, or that some home working is available.
  • Being clear that you are willing to discuss their preferences. If you can be flexible about the flexibility you’re offering, say so. That will reassure the candidate that you are prepared to take their particular needs into account, and to be adaptable if their circumstances change.

Of course, as well as saying it, you need to show it. Employer brand is increasingly important in the fight for talent, and candidates will be doing their research. So making sure your approach to flexible working is highlighted on your website and other communications is key. Advertising on a flex-focused jobs board such as Timewise Jobs is also a good way to demonstrate your commitment to flexible working.

You can find out more about what candidates think and how to position your recruitment to win them over within the report. But one thing is certain; however well-intentioned it might be, talking in general terms about the flexibility on offer is not the right place to start.

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