Younger people put far less emphasis on flexible working than older colleagues

Demand for flexible working options surged during the pandemic but has since become less important to people, according to ADP Research Institute’s People at Work 2024: A Global Workforce ViewDemand for flexible working options surged during the pandemic but has since become less important to people, according to ADP Research Institute’s People at Work 2024: A Global Workforce View [registration]. Overall, the survey of  nearly 35,000 people in 18 countries suggests flexible working hours are important to 25 percent of workers, while 15 percent value flexible locations. Workers of all ages and in all regions rank flexibility of location below salary, job security, work enjoyment and career progression. In Europe, only 14 percent of respondents favour flexible location, a slightly smaller share than in Asia Pacific (15 percent), Latin America (15 percent), and North America (17 percent).

The survey claims the share of fully on-site workers grew in 2023, rising from 52 percent in 2022 to nearly 55 percent, and most of that growth came from a two-percentage point drop in the share of hybrid workers. However, the share of remote workers, at 12 percent, barely budged.

The desire for flexible working and other job preferences also varies with age. Workers aged 55 and older favour autonomy over their time more than their younger counterparts. Additionally, 31 percent of workers aged 55 and older put flexible hours among their top priorities, compared to less than 24 percent of workers aged 18 to 24.

Moreover, remote workers are 1.3 times more likely to feel insecure about their job than hybrid or on-site workers. This finding might reflect a general unease among remote workers given their physical absence from the job site or feel that their employers do not trust them to be working effectively.

“The desire for flexible working arrangements isn’t going away, it’s just being reprioritized along with other job attributes that workers value, such as career progression and enjoyment of work,” says Dr. Nela Richardson, ADP Chief Economist.

“Our survey offers an important lesson for employers,” Richardson said. “While workers like the autonomy that flexible work arrangements offer, they also feel that their employers are monitoring them more. Employers should set clear standards for off-site work and communicate them clearly to nurture trust.”


Parent trap

Nearly 44 percent of workers with infants say their employer is more flexible about hours, compared to parents with adult children (18 percent) and people without children (33 percent). However, remote workers with infants and young children feel especially vulnerable. More than a third of remote-working parents with infants or very young children said they don’t feel secure in their jobs.

The percentage of workers who don’t feel secure in their job leans toward those exclusively working remote, at 24 percent compared to onsite or hybrid:

  • Remotely/from home only: 24 percent
  • On-site/at my workplace: 19 percent
  • A mix of both: 20 percent

Still, employers are more likely to give increased flexibility to these same parents. More than half of parents with infants at home (51 percent) say their employer has become more flexible about work location, in contrast to 18 percent of parents with adult children and 36 percent of people who don’t have children.


A multigenerational workforce 

As the world’s older workers moved into retirement and a whole new generation enters, employers will need to address the differing priorities of a workforce with wide-ranging ages.

Moving forward, balancing company initiatives that support multiple generations will be key to fostering a positive work environment. There are a few key differentiating factors between older and younger workers at the moment:

  • As adults aged 25 to 34 settle into the workforce and begin to advance in their careers, they’re less likely than any other group to make day-to-day enjoyment of their jobs a top priority (26 percent).
  • Workers 55 and older prioritise autonomy over their time more than their younger counterparts. 31 percent of workers 55 and older rank flexibility of hours among their top priorities, compared to 24 percent of workers aged 18 to 24.
  • One of the biggest changes to the global workplace has been the widespread adoption of flexible work arrangements. Embracing this change, 17 percent of adults 18 to 24 value the freedom to choose where they work, compared to 13 percent of workers 55 and older. As workers age, they place more importance on salary. Most workers 45 to 54 rank salary as a top priority (62 percent). Pay is prioritised by 56 percent of workers aged 25 to 34, and only 44 percent of workers aged 18 to 24.


Workers feel their attendance is monitored 

The remote work arrangements that many employees and employers have embraced have come with a downside. Remote workers are more likely to feel like their organisations are monitoring them.  Most workers think their employers are monitoring their time and attendance, regardless of where they are, but the belief is more prevalent among remote workers (68 percent). Hybrid workers (65 percent), too, are more likely than their on-site colleagues (60 percent) to feel like they’re being watched.

The sentiment is the same with managers, they too feel the watchful eye of their employers. In fact, they are more likely than individual contributors to believe they’re being monitored. More than 77 percent of upper managers say their employers are watching them more closely, compared to 46 percent of individual contributors.

The belief that employers are watching workers more than ever isn’t prevalent across all industries. In travel and transport, retail, catering, and leisure sectors – where workers are more likely to be customer-facing and work on-site – far fewer workers feel like their time and attendance are being monitored more closely.

In media, marketing, IT and telecoms – industries that a tend to be more remote – worker suspicions intensified. Paradoxically, health care, where many roles must in done in person, has the largest share of workers (73 percent), who say they’re being monitored more than ever.