Flexible working causing divide between leaders and employees

The gap between employer and employee could widen post-pandemic as flexible working divides opinion in the workplace.

A new Gartner survey found 75% of executive leaders think they are already operating within a culture of flexibility, yet only 57% of employees said their organisational culture embraces flexible work.

Just 41% of employees agreed that senior leadership acts in their best interest.

Furthering the divide, 76% of leaders think they have equipped staff with the resources to work virtually yet only 59% of employees said they had made the necessary investments.

Alexia Cambon, research director at Gartner HR practice, said if left unaddressed, this division may lead to a critical failure to build trust and employee buy-in for future of work plans.

She told HR magazine: “First, [leaders] must acknowledge that there is a gap. Designing flexible work requires leaders to adopt a human-centric lens, and this means that leaders must look at the realities of flexibility from multiple points of view.

“Especially those whose experience is fundamentally different from theirs.

“By communicating their awareness of the differences between how flexibility is experienced, leaders will already make some progress in bridging the gap and making employees feel heard.”

Flexible working post-pandemic:

Acas publishes new flexible working guidance

Flexible working: what HR needs to know to make it work

Flexible commuter tickets could support shift to greener travel

If this flexible working gap is not addressed, businesses risk losing top talent.

“Employees increasingly feel that flexible work is a right, not a privilege, and leaders who feel differently risk alienating their workforce and damaging trust in leadership,” said Cambon.

"Trust is an important component of employee engagement, which is already being tested in a volatile and disruptive work environment.

“Employees who feel their expectations will not be met may see this as yet another reason to leave their organisation and join the great resignation wave.”

Gartner data found organisations that mandate a full return to the office risk losing 39% of their workforce.

Cambon said: “Employees must be given the chance to make their voice heard in decisions that fundamentally affect their lives, both personal and professional. 

“By employing strategies like pulse surveys or focus groups, organisations will have a stronger understanding of where there is dissonance between populations on the future work model and work to close the gap.”

Currently, only 47% of employees said they believe leaders and decision makers take their perspective into consideration.

In comparison, 75% of leaders said leadership teams consider employee perspective when making decisions.

Leaders must be as explicit as possible about the decision-making process.

“Inconsistently receiving messages create confusion. It it is better for leaders to state clearly what they do and do not know to ensure populations are not consuming different messages,” Cambon added.

The 2021 Gartner Hybrid Work Employee Survey surveyed 4,000 UK employees in January 2021.