Use Flexible Work Options to Help Fill your Skills Gap
By: Dona DeZube
As part of today’s changing workforce, offering workers flexible work arrangements can help broaden your company’s access to talent, cut overhead costs and address your skills gap. They can also help improve employee retention.
Transitioning from traditional, in-office, 9-5 jobs to more flexible work options can also widen your pool of job applicants. Today’s job seekers put a premium on workplace benefits such as telecommuting, part-time hours, compressed work weeks, flex time, sabbaticals, job sharing, shift trading, unlimited vacations, project-based contracts or temporary positions.
Who Benefits from Flexible Options?
Flexible work options can be a particularly effective recruiting tool for small and medium-sized organizations. These companies can more readily assess their impact on the company’s goals, culture, values and bottom line.
“Flex workers help employers find the best people for each job, and help managers focus on the most important aspects of a job -- output and results -- rather than when, where, and how a job gets done. It turns out, those criteria don't matter all that much,” says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs.
Sutton Fell and other workplace experts suggest considering flexible work offerings when doing workforce planning, particularly if you face these five common recruitment challenges:
1. You can’t find, or can’t afford, specialized talent to close your skills gap.
Does your company lack a large budget for compensation, employee development or other perks? Flex options can help you tap the pool of MBAs, JDs and CPAs who don’t want to make a full-time, on-site commitment. And once you attract talent with flexible options, they’re in your talent pipeline.
Keep in mind that as employees age, their lifestyle demands change. Today’s sandwich generation who care for small children and elderly relatives is tomorrow’s empty nester. When your workforce planning automatically includes flex options, you’ll find new ways that perks can attract and retain different employee cohorts.
In niches such as information technology and engineering, flex assignments are so in demand that contract and temporary workers have overtaken full-time employees as the norm, says Brad Beckner, vice president for the Chicago market of Kelly Services. Companies that fail to adapt to the trend could end up with fewer candidates from which to choose.
2. Efficiency gains, lower overhead and reduced compensation costs are a priority.
Some workers who see flexibility as part of their compensation will work at competitive or even reduced rates. “They put a price tag on it,” says says Ellen Grealish, partner and cofounder of FlexProfessionals, LLC. While compensation varies based on the position, it’s not unusual to see a 10 percent to 15 percent discount in salary, plus no benefits costs, for part-time, flexible workers.
That said, there’s a limit to how much and how often an organization can discount compensation for flexibility. Job candidates with in-demand skills and experience know they don’t have to compromise on compensation. In these cases, the organization can use flexibility as a deal-maker when competing with not-so-flexible opportunities.
3. You need a strong bench team to test a new market.
When security certification and clearance company Corsec Security needed to augment its workforce, it encountered a very tight talent market within the industry, both nationally and locally.
By creating a flex workforce plan, the company was able to bring in talent that was previously out of reach. “Now, we never encounter resource gaps and can bring on multiple projects at a time to satisfy client demand, which then goes directly to our bottom line,” says Corsec Chief Administrative Officer Chandra James.
4. Your organization seeks reduced turnover.
In addition to helping build out a talent pipeline, flex work options can help you boost employee retention by retaining workers who would otherwise leave due to lifestyle changes.
“A lot of people are looking for flexible roles at a time in their lives where they don’t need the title, the stress, or even the salary,” Grealish says. What they do want: a balanced work environment where they’re challenged.
Don’t be surprised if a shift toward flexible work options spurs either resentment or demand for the same benefits from on-site employees. In organizations that opt to offer flex work to everyone, a quick survey of existing workers will uncover the most appealing options, which you can then consider adding to your workforce plan.
When a job isn’t conductive to flexibility, don’t force the issue. Not all jobs can be done by flex workers and many companies still need full-time people in seats.
“You have to run your business,” says Roberta Matuson of Matuson Consulting. “If someone wants to go to an ashram in Thailand once every three months that might not be the right person because it’s your busy time. Employers are bending over backward to accommodate employees instead of finding the right person. If that’s not the right fit, you shouldn’t be hiring them.”
5. Your firm is considering foreign workers for roles it can’t fill with U.S. talent.
Hiring remote workers in foreign companies is one way to expand your business territory into areas with low overhead and startup costs. Before you add foreign employees to your workforce plan, consider the tax, legal and accounting issues in the United States and in the workers’ home countries.
“Hiring a freelancer is likely very different from hiring a full-time employee in another country,” Sutton Fell says. “Also, depending on the situation, companies that hire in foreign countries can be held responsible for following those countries' tax and human resources laws.”
The Risks of Flexibility
Using flex workers may seem like a good strategy, but it’s a significant change, even for a small business. Before you start, consider consulting with legal and tax professionals about state and federal laws governing flex and temp workers.
While flexible work options can provide a range of potential benefits, remember that your recruiting headaches will never disappear entirely. But they might lessen if you’re willing to make the initial investment to consider flexible workplace options.