It’s no longer news that employees today want flexibility—study after study confirms this across industries, functional areas, and demographics. And while the work-from-home-return-to-office debate dominates headlines, flexible work location is only one of many ways to appeal to today’s job seekers. Choice comes in many forms when it comes to creating environments where top candidates want to work.

One Size Is No Longer Enough

For decades, best practices in workplace management have allowed only a modicum of autonomy for most employees. A recent New York Times article noted, “The office was never one size fits all. It was one size fits some, with the expectation that everybody else would squeeze in.”

Those practices no longer apply to the modern workforce.

A McKinsey article used the term “radical flexibility” to describe what workers expect today: flexibility in where, when, and how the work can be done. An Entrepreneur analysis of several research studies identified choice as a driving factor in employee satisfaction, citing better outcomes for employers who used a team-driven rather than mandated approach to implement return-to-office plans.

These trends point to our very innate human need for autonomy, defined in Positive Psychology as “the ability or process of making one’s own choices and controlling one’s own life.” With changes in the landscape of work over the past several years, employees are making decisions that put their basic human needs first.

Choice in Where the Work Gets Done

There are people who thrive in the office, those who love working remotely, and a great swath in the middle who just want work to be flexible enough so they can make a good paycheck and live the way they want to. Hybrid and remote roles give employees more choice in their lives at work and at home, while giving you access to a larger and more diverse pool of candidates.

The more flexible the location, the bigger the geographic area of people you can reach. For example, candidate response rates to our advertising and outreach are between two to two and a half times higher for remote vs. hybrid roles. And because we are pulling from a bigger group, our clients have more well-qualified candidates to choose from.

Geography isn’t the only factor here—accessibility is another. There are many highly qualified and capable employees who are unable to come into the office full-time. This may include parents, caretakers, and workers with disabilities or neurodivergence that make the commute and office setting intolerable on a daily basis. Offering a flexible work location opens the door for these employees, supports an inclusive hiring model, and can help diversify your workforce.

Choice in When and How the Work Gets Done

Perhaps you can’t offer hybrid or remote, and that’s okay. The more flexibility you embrace as an organization—in whatever ways work best for your employees—the more attractive your open positions will be to candidates.

Gallup recently published a piece in the Harvard Business Review on the types of flexibility on-site employees want. They found that among the options people wanted most, increased paid time off and a four-day workweek were the clear winners. Other options included choice in start and end times, which days employees work each week, which hours they work each day, and dress code.

Could you offer an optional four-day workweek? Could you give employees more autonomy in how they get the work done as long as they reach the goal? If you can’t change the structure, is there room for more employee choice within it?

Choice Driven by Shared Purpose

As your organization grows and adapts, how much do you mandate changes to staff? How much do you ask for their input . . . and use it? According to a recent Gartner survey, shared purpose, or “feeling invested in the organization by taking concrete action on purpose, not just through corporate statements,” is integral to employee satisfaction.

Employees who feel a sense of value and purpose are more likely to be productive and stay long-term. Including employees in decision-making—giving them a choice in an intentional and actionable way—demonstrates that you see them as people, not just workers.

The job market will continue to evolve, from the great resignation and the great rethink to what some are calling the big stay as the market begins to cool. But some changes are unlikely to shift back—employees know their value, are seeking flexibility and choice, and want to feel a sense of purpose in work. Organizations that embrace these changing needs and expectations will lead the way in navigating wherever the market turns next.

Related Resources

For guidance on how to describe hybrid work models during your hiring process, read How To Talk About Hybrid Work in Your Job Ads.