What employees’ desire for flexibility means for talent management

The office environment and traditional models of employment are fast becoming obsolete as professionals across the world seek greater flexibility and autonomy, according to a PwC report. These shifting employee preferences have urgent implications for employers and HR departments seeking to attract and retain the brightest talent.

Search methods and reward structures are just two areas that are likely to change in the near future. Companies will need to create more sophisticated techniques to measure performance and productivity, and social capital will become increasingly important to business success, PwC says.

The authors of PwC’s report The Future of Work: A Journey to 2022 asked 10,000 professionals in China, Germany, India, the UK, and the US how they envisaged their world of work in 2022. The authors also surveyed 500 HR specialists across the world about how they are adapting to the changing demands of their workforce.

The survey found that technological breakthroughs, resource scarcity, and climate change, as well as shifts in global economic power were regarded as the three most significant drivers of change in the way people will work. Respondents were optimistic about those changes, with 64% stating that they believe technology will improve their job prospects.

Employee priorities

Flexibility, autonomy, and varied challenges emerged as clear priorities for a growing number of professionals around the world when considering their next move. The opportunity to take control of their career, what they do, and when is the most important factor for 29% of participants.

The desire for autonomy was particularly strong amongst younger respondents from China. Rather than following traditional career models and sticking with one employer for a significant period of time, many respondents see themselves having portfolio careers.

However, job security is still a high priority for many, with 44% of respondents ranking it the most important factor in a job prospect.

An employer’s purpose and values are becoming increasingly important in attracting talent. Sixty-five per cent of those surveyed want to work for an organisation with a powerful social conscience. In response to this trend, 36% of HR professionals surveyed are building their talent strategies around their organisation’s social and environmental conscience.

Implications for the future of people management 

Based on these findings, the report’s authors have outlined three different visions of how the world of work might look in 2022.

In the first scenario, corporations and big-company capitalism reign. These organisations are in fierce competition with each other on a global scale to secure the best talent. Employees are attracted by the high earning potential, job security, and status that come with working in a multinational corporation. Reward packages are based on finely tuned performance metrics. Sensors and data analytics are used to measure and optimise performance, while learning and development programmes are aligned to these measures.

In the second scenario, consumers and employees have driven companies into developing a social conscience and sense of responsibility to the environment. Companies engage with consumers, partners, and the community to create new products and services that benefit all of them. In the recruitment process, companies prioritise candidates with desired behaviours and attitudes. Similarly, employees are attracted by the brand’s values and culture. Reward packages take into account corporate citizenship and good behaviours as well as performance, with value attached to wellbeing, flexible working, and volunteering. In this scenario, HR acts as guardian of the brand, focusing on culture and preventing reputational risk across the supply chain.

The third scenario sees a trend towards fragmentation, with companies breaking down into networks of smaller, highly specialised, entrepreneurial organisations. Hiring people on an ad hoc basis when specific skills are required provides maximum flexibility while minimising fixed costs. The organisation’s reputation within networks is one key way of attracting talent, in addition to the flexibility and autonomy offered by the model. The past performance of employers and contractors alike will be rated on social networks. For employees pursuing this type of portfolio career, negotiation skills are crucial.

“Workers will be more likely to see themselves as a member of a particular skill or professional network, rather than as an employee of a particular company,” Jon Andrews, UK HR Consulting leader at PwC, said in a news release. “People will be categorised and rewarded for having specialist expertise. Project-related bonuses could become more common as people have a personal stake in the organisation’s or project’s success.”

Samantha White ( is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.