Current Trends in Flexibility and Returning to the Workforce Post-Pandemic

04/04/2022 by Gwenn Rosener

 

Two women at a desk in the office

As a leader in the flexible staffing and recruiting space, we are regularly asked for our perspectives on major trends we’re seeing in the workplace when it comes to women and the pandemic, flexibility, and returning to the workforce. Below you will find some of our insights on how women navigated and were impacted by the pandemic and what we are seeing now as the pandemic eases.

Women Prioritized Family Over Career

Women were the family’s first responders when covid hit. We’ve spoken to so many women who, when schools went remote and the elderly were isolated, came to the rescue and scaled back or dropped out of the workforce to make sure their children and parents were safe. Whether it was riding herd over their kids’ daily school lessons or running errands and delivering groceries for their aging parents, it was disproportionally moms and daughters who prioritized family over work and allowed their careers to take a hit.

We’ve also watched those who dropped out struggle with how and when to jump back in. Between the summer of 2020 and winter of 2021, we saw a significant dip in new job seeker registrations with us, largely because of the uncertainty around when and how kids would go back to school and when daycare facilities would open again. There was also lots of uncertainty about whether jobs would go remote, and if they did, would they stay remote as employers kept announcing and then retracting return-to-the-office strategies. We reached out to many candidates about jobs in 2021 and heard frequently, “I can’t even consider a position until I know where my kids are going to be in the fall.” They hunkered down and put caregiving first. We are just now starting to see a significant uptick in women who were sidelined during the pandemic having the confidence in school and workplace landscapes to re-engage in their job searches.

Part-time Positions Helped Candidates Weather the Impact of the Pandemic

Another interesting trend we saw during the pandemic was the resilience of our part-time placements. Where we had placed candidates part-time prior to covid, many were able to continue working because they had the capacity to manage additional child and elder care responsibilities required during the pandemic. Their employers were also less likely to let them go because as part-time employees they were a more agile and economical staffing option. We had a few candidates get laid off, but for the most part, our part-time candidates stayed employed and weathered the pandemic’s impact on the workplace and their personal lives well.

Remote and Part-Time Work Provides Safety and Flexibility

Part-time and remote work moved from the shadows of the workplace to the mainstream during the pandemic, providing job seekers the opportunity to re-enter the workforce safely and flexibly. Over the past year and a half, many of the candidates we worked with basically said they would not take a job unless the position was remote. They did not want to endanger their own health or the health of their parents or children by being on-site at the workplace – no matter what covid protocols were in place. They also didn’t want to lose the advantages of remote work they had discovered during the pandemic including more time with family, reduced, or eliminated commutes, and the ability to shift working hours around. We’ve been amazed at the conviction of our candidates around remote work – they won’t budge.

Because we’ve always been an agent for flexibility and work with employers who understand the value of flexibility in retaining and attracting women (especially now in this tight labor market), our company has ridden the flexibility wave. We’ve got more flexible jobs than ever to offer our candidates. We’ve partnered with new clients, especially some bigger companies, who pre-pandemic would not have considered offering workplace flexibility and are now using it as a tool to differentiate themselves in the eyes of women. And the pay discount we used to see associated with part-time or flexible work has largely been erased. Flexibility is no longer a perk, but a requirement most job seekers, especially women, are seeking.

Greater Options for Full-Time/Flex Positions Post-Pandemic

Greater options for full-time/flex positions post-pandemic have created a new, empowering form of flexibility for women with caregiving responsibilities. Pre-pandemic, flexibility largely meant part-time (fewer than 40 hours); remote work was rarely an option. It’s hard to remember, but none of us really knew about Zoom and the term “hybrid work” wasn’t in our vernacular. Now that we’ve all been forced to work remotely and have demonstrated that remote work can be as productive, if not more so than in-office work, full-time/flex (remote or hybrid work) has become a leading form of flexibility. For women trying to balance work and caregiving responsibilities, full-time flex can be a powerful form of flexibility compared to part-time, because of higher earning potential, benefits, and reduced impact on career progression. Part-time is still preferred by many of our candidates who are seeking flexibility and it remains an effective option for reducing or preventing a career break (which can have significant earning and career progression). But full-time/flex, which was rare pre-pandemic, has become a valued flexibility option post-pandemic.

Job Seekers and Employees Have Unprecedented Leverage to Negotiate Flexibility

We and our candidates are having much more success post-pandemic negotiating flexibility. With the Great Resignation and the greater demand for remote and hybrid work among job-seekers post-pandemic, companies are recognizing that they must offer flexibility. There has never been a better time, if you need flexibility, to find your dream job that offers it. One of our recent placements illustrates the new power job seekers must request flexibility. Our candidate, a controller working full-time in an in-office position with a long commute, recently secured a position through us at a medical device manufacturer. As the primary caregiver for her mother, she was able to successfully negotiate skewed start/stop times for her workday, the ability to work remotely one day a week, and an extra week of vacation.

Remote Work has Made Flexibility More Valued by Both Men and Women

Remote work has made flexibility more valued by both men and women and enabled more equitable arrangements in caregiving responsibilities. With millennials and Gen Z families, where having two-income earners in a household has become more the norm, flexibility during the pandemic helped both parents split the household and childcare demands more equally. Men, many of whom are now working from home, are sharing daycare drop off, care of sick kids, driving responsibilities for after-school activities or doctors’ appointments. We’re seeing men and women both seeking flexibility.

More Information and Insights

Kerry Hannon, Senior Columnist for Yahool! Money, recently published several articles about women and the post-pandemic workforce. Read more here:

Here’s who can help women get back in the workforce

Women returning to the workforce get pickier about jobs

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