What 'flexidus' could mean for employers in 2024

How to prevent the mass exodus of employees looking for flexible work

What 'flexidus' could mean for employers in 2024

How can employers address a potential ‘flexidus’ in the new year?

The term ‘flexidus’ combines the phrases flexible work arrangements and exodus, says Dr Melissa Wheeler, senior lecturer in the Graduate School of Business and Law at RMIT.

“[It means] that employees who aren't receiving the kind of flexible work that they've become accustomed to, or expect, are going to be leaving in masses,” she told HRD Australia.

They will be looking for other organisations that offer the level of flexibility they have become used to, Wheeler added.

“They've adjusted their lives and they need that level to be able to flourish in aspects that are outside of just the work environment,” she said.

Disconnect around flexible working arrangements

Several organisations such as Commonwealth Bank and Amazon have called either a full or partial return to office, shifting away from remote working opportunities imposed during the COVID pandemic.

“The reactions that we've seen to these flexible work or return to work mandates has been quite negative, and in some ways, almost paradoxical or oxymoronic when we see companies like Zoom, and Meta, Google – the leaders of different kinds of remote working or online presences or virtual tools to connect with others – are part of the ones who are asking for these returns to work,” Wheeler said.

She added that there is a disconnect in how employers and employees view flexible working arrangements.

“From a manager's point of view, their job was easier when they could see everyone, when they could walk through the rows of cubicles or…open spaces and have access to all their employees at the same time all day long,” she said. “If a client called and had a question, I could pop right over to that person's desk and say, ‘Can you answer that right away’.

“Now, that kind of immediacy has been replaced by other kinds of concessions that are a little bit more favourable to the worker side. So the worker’s flexibility is perhaps being recognised and acknowledged more so than the convenience to the manager to have that presenteeism.”

Returning to work and mandates

Wheeler, however, highlighted the importance of acknowledging the different ways in which employers are approaching a return to work mandate.     

“We give them a lot of criticism around the return-to-work mandates. But I think what should be acknowledged is the fact that most organisations aren't saying return to the office five days a week, from nine till five exactly, or much later in some cases. There has been already a shift to the time in which people start, the number of ways that they can work remotely, opportunities to travel overseas either for work or for visiting family when maybe a family member is sick. When you can continue to do the job that you're doing except remotely for some period of time.

“So I think that while we can be uber critical, it's important to also acknowledge that advances have been made and workers do have more opportunities to be able to do childcare drop offs and pickups and continue to work later in the day.”

In addition, different kinds of flexible work are popping up, such as the introduction of four-day work week. Companies such as Ikea and Medibank are among the businesses either mandating or trialling this work style.

“With all of that in mind, I think that organisations need to signal the right things,” Wheeler said. “So if they are willing to boost their flexible options, make sure they plaster that all over job advertisements because then they'll be collecting those kinds of people who are attracted to those jobs.”  

 What else HR can do to combat flexidus

Communication between employers and staff is one of the ways to help address the likelihood of a flexidus, Wheeler said.

“If there's a lack of communication, a lack of trust, or differences in expectations between employers and employees, then the first step would be the opposite of what we've known as quiet quitting,” she said.

“Quiet quitting means that you sit back, do the job that you've been asked to do and nothing more. But that quiet aspect of it is really concerning for me. And I think if the expectations and the trust and the psychological contract are broken, then better communication needs to be facilitated between supervisors and those they supervise.”

She added that before any drastic workplace changes are made, managers need to build their capabilities in terms of managing remote, hybrid workers or flexible workers.

“We can't expect people in leadership to all of a sudden understand how to convert all of the things that used to work for them into this new way of working,” she said.

“So the first step is making sure that they have the tools, they have the resources. And also identifying any structural or organisational barriers that need to be dismantled for them to be good leaders and managers to their people.”

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