White collar professionals have enjoyed greater job flexibility in the three years since the pandemic, but their non-office counterparts are often left out of the work-from-home phenomenon. For various reasons — the onsite nature of their jobs, the rigid schedules of their work or simply the inability of employers to accommodate — blue and gray collar talent haven’t benefited as much from greater latitude in the workplace.
However, this doesn’t mean they lack the same desire as their white-collar peers. New data from Randstad’s Workmonitor Pulse Survey shows non-office workers deeply want more job flexibility, which they prioritize nearly as much as pay. And they believe their employers can do more to meet this need.
“The most appealing part of my job is the flexibility. For people who have kids, it works out well. People without kids in school also like the schedule because they can be done by two o’clock in the afternoon. We really have control of our schedules,” said Joe Marino, who works in the US as a merchandiser for a global food company.
As a non-office worker, Marino’s role is to stock his company’s products at retail stores. Because these customers operate long hours, he is able to perform his work anytime the business is open, which means his job can easily accommodate his lifestyle and family obligations, and not the other way around.
the universal appeal of job flexibility
It’s this appeal that draws workers to his company, and our data indicates that many other non-office workers also desire such flexibility. For instance, 42% of blue collar workers — people who perform high- and low-skill manual labor in industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, construction or mining — say flexibility is as or more important than pay. Gray collar talent — people holding jobs with aspects of blue and white collar roles that involve a service or is customer-facing but not based in an office — desire flexible conditions even more, with 48% equating it to pay.
Randstad’s Q2 Workmonitor Pulse Survey gauged the sentiments of more than 7,500 workers in the US, Australia, the UK, Germany and France. Our findings revealed significant disparity in the perspective between white collar workers and their non-office counterparts but also some shared views. These revelations can help employers address talent scarcity and strengthen their attraction and retention strategies.
As expected, blue and gray collar talent expressed a higher level of dissatisfaction with workplace autonomy, but across all roles a large majority say they are mostly satisfied with the level of flexibility offered by their jobs. For instance, even though more than 10% of non-office talent are dissatisfied (compared with just 7% for white collar peers), more than 70% in each category are happy with their current arrangement.
Still, a significant percentage of non-office workers (over 30%) believe their employers fall short of accommodating their needs, with 39% having to use sick days to manage personal responsibilities, and 30% having quit a job over lack of flexibility. More importantly, about half of gray and blue collar talent say office workers get more flexibility. More than a perception, our data indicates that while 52% of white collar workers have seen greater flexibility during the past three years, only 26% of gray collar and 20% of blue collar talent reported the same.
an opportunity to increase workplace equity
There is no question that remote and hybrid working trends have favored office professionals, but in the eyes of many non-office workers, companies should offer more latitude in their jobs. Around 30% of blue and gray collar talent want a four-day or reduced work week, split shifts, night shifts or flexible weekend hours. In comparison, a majority of white collar workers want remote options.
Meeting the needs of non-office workers who desire more flexibility doesn’t require drastic changes to workplace policies; rather employers should consider what’s behind this need for accommodating hours. In Marino’s case, his schedule enables him to tend to his two children’s school schedules and that of his family. Being able to choose when he fulfills orders also means he can attend doctor’s appointments, take a family car for repair or simply rest when he is tired without disrupting his work.
Across all worker types, a majority say they would spend more time with family if provided more job flexibility; this was highest among blue collar respondents (61%) followed by gray collar (54%) and white collar (54%). More than two in five people also say they would use the time to become more healthy or fit or get more rest. Around 30% say they would be able to care for children, parents or other family members.
By truly understanding why workers want more flexibility, employers can develop policies that help people better cope with their personal demands. These measures include:
- Redefining work for non-office workers into activities that can be performed off-site and outside of normal business hours. This allows companies to provide the flexibility their workers desire, even in roles that traditionally haven’t offered this benefit.
- Offering more support to help employees address personal obligations. For instance, on-site child care or stipends to pay caregivers would alleviate the burden of taking care of family members.
- Providing impactful employee assistance to reduce stress and improve energy levels. Because 45% of non-office workers want to become more healthy if offered more job flexibility, companies can help them with customized wellness programs or establishing on-site fitness facilities in the workplace. Such an effort could go a long way toward creating a healthier and more productive workforce.
Job flexibility is undoubtedly the new frontier in the world of work. In the updated social contract between employee and employer created since the pandemic, companies are expected to more proactively look after the wellbeing of their people. By better accommodating the need for flexible hours and work arrangements, employers can overcome their talent scarcity challenges and enhance retention, loyalty and talent attraction.