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Recruitment roulette: Are you playing the fake flexing game?


Clearly, the majority of job candidates prioritize workplace flexibility. So, it’s understandable that employers do what they can to make their company look attractive to them. It becomes a problem when companies downplay the aspects of their workplace that candidates may object to and try to present a rosier picture instead. This is known as fake flexing.

Today’s employees expect and prefer greater workplace flexibility.

According to a May 2023 Gallup survey, five in 10 full-time U.S. employees have remote-capable jobs. Of this group:

  • 60% prefer a hybrid work arrangement
  • A third wants fully remote work
  • Fewer than 10% prefer to work fully on-site

In other words, more than 90% of remote-capable employees do NOT want to revert to the pre-pandemic norm of fully on-site work.

If employees aren’t allowed the kind of flexibility they expect from their employer, the survey shows many are “extremely likely” to look for a job elsewhere.

For employers who aren’t comfortable embracing workplace flexibility, this can be a big barrier to recruiting top talent in a challenging job market.

Enter this hot-button recruiting issue: fake flexing.

What is fake flexing?

Fake flexing is taking advantage of candidates’ desire for workplace flexibility to make the company sound more flexible than it actually is, often leaving a wide chasm between candidate expectations and reality.

This can happen when recruiters or hiring managers:

  • Offer vague references to “flexibility” without adding further detail
  • Respond to candidates’ inquiries on this topic by enthusiastically calling themselves a “flexible workplace,” “hybrid workplace,” or “remote-friendly workplace” without really defining what this means
  • Avoid the topic directly and let candidates rely on their own assumptions

Usually, no recruiter sets out to purposely lie to a job candidate or engage in malicious behavior. More often, it’s an omission or glossing over of crucial information to help the company be more competitive.

What does fake flexing look like in practice?

Let’s say a job candidate who currently occupies a hybrid position in which they work from home three to four days per week is contacted by a recruiter. The recruiter agrees that the new position is also hybrid, and so the candidate assumes their new working arrangement will be the same as what they currently enjoy. However, when the candidate joins the new company, they discover that the expectation is for them to be in the office four days per week and only work from home one day per week.

Surprise! And not in a good way.

In this fake flexing example, the recruiter technically didn’t lie. The position is hybrid. But the reality of the working arrangements is a significant – and negative – departure from what the candidate expected.

Consequences of fake flexing

Though recruiters may not see themselves as lying to or misleading anyone, it can feel that way to job candidates and the new employees who find themselves on the receiving end of those unpleasant surprises.

When a new employee feels such a deep level of betrayal from their employer, imagine what this does to the employer-employee relationship from the outset. It can completely destroy trust and lead the employee to wonder what else the company is not being entirely truthful about.

Employees with low morale are much less likely to be as engaged, productive or put in extra effort to go above and beyond. In fact, they’re probably one of the quiet quitters who’s doing the bare minimum while looking for a new job that better aligns with their expectations.

This mindset can become toxic and spread easily among other employees. In short order, your workplace can be rife with resentment and paranoia, and your culture can be negatively impacted.

Word can travel fast, as it’s easy for employees to post negative online reviews and spread their anger at the company to external audiences as a “beware and stay away from this company” warning. This can harm your future recruiting efforts.

Employees who feel lied to and resentful about a lack of flexibility are also at high risk for leaving the company prematurely, giving you a retention problem. There are significant turnover costs associated with regularly replacing employees, including the time and resources for recruiting, onboarding and training.

How to avoid engaging in fake flexing

1. Review remote and hybrid work policies

Fake flexing comes from a place of insecurity about your company’s position on workplace flexibility.

So, it makes sense to evaluate and address where your company may be falling behind its competition to remove some of this insecurity in the first place.

Take another look at the language of your remote and hybrid work policies to determine whether additional flexibility can be built in. How do you compare to your competitors and is it feasible to level up in any way?

2. Talk to leadership

Have a conversation with leadership about why certain remote or hybrid work practices can’t be incorporated into your policy.

Aim to better understand:

  • What is it about increased workplace flexibility that makes them uncomfortable?
  • What negative outcomes are they trying to prevent?
  • What do they hope to accomplish with these rules?
  • How does this policy align with company goals?

This information can help you prepare your recruiters for potentially tough conversations.

3. Prepare recruiters for conversations about remote and hybrid work

This topic absolutely will come up in conversations between recruiters and job candidates. Equip your recruiters with the information necessary to be truthful while empowering them to better navigate these situations and obtain more favorable outcomes.

  • Describe to them how the company should present itself in the job market.
  • Help them anticipate commonly asked questions by candidates.
  • Encourage them to address the issue and set expectations early in candidate conversations.
  • Give them clear reasons why the company policy is what it is, so they can explain to candidates why the company has made certain decisions around flexibility. Candidates want the rationale.

4. Incorporate more detail into job descriptions and postings

When it comes to workplace flexibility, be precise when writing job descriptions and creating job postings. Don’t allow for ambiguity or use buzzwords, such as flexibility, without defining what they mean at your company.

  • If a job is fully on-site or fully remote, say that.
  • If a job is hybrid, spell out how many days are in the office versus remote each week.
  • If there is any variation in flexibility within your workplace (for example, flexibility increases with tenure), explain why along with the rules.
  • If the job has specific hours, say what those are. If there are scheduling options, list those.
  • Link to the remote and hybrid work policy.

5. Prioritize honesty and transparency

Many candidates understand employers set parameters around remote work and may require in-office attendance for at least part of the week. Be honest and transparent with these candidates about your company’s rules. (Honesty and transparency are must-have qualities in any organizational culture.)

Explaining the details of your company’s remote or hybrid work policy may deter some applicants and make your company seem less competitive compared to your industry peers. If your company isn’t fully on board with remote or hybrid work, it likely will.

But you don’t want to conceal or mislead and end up wasting both your and the candidate’s time. It never ends well.

Focus less on attracting the biggest possible number of applicants and more on capturing the right type of applicant who is aligned with your company’s culture and practices.

Summing it all up

Fake flexing, the act of presenting your company as more flexible and accepting of remote and hybrid work than it actually is, is a quick and easy way to alienate job candidates and new employees. It can be tempting to engage in this behavior if your company is out of step with competitors and you’re having a hard time procuring talent. But do so and risk an impaired culture, low morale and engagement, diminished trust, poor reputation and heightened turnover.

Instead, be honest and transparent about your organization’s policies on workplace flexibility so you don’t mislead anyone and waste their time. Assess your remote and hybrid work policies regularly to determine if changes can be made to expand flexibility. If not, discuss with leadership their rationale so you can then prepare recruiters on how to talk to candidates. Prevent any ambiguity in job descriptions and postings. And focus on attracting candidates who are on board with your policies.

For more tips on recruiting the optimal job candidates for your business, download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to attracting, recruiting and hiring top talent.