Recruitment fees fail flexible working

June 2, 2023

I was always led to believe that the fundamental premise behind recruitment is that it’s about finding the best person for the job.

Surely that’s got to be right? It’s logical and ethical, right?


What if the best person for the job is someone who doesn’t want to work the traditional five days a week and therefore their salary reflects a shorter working week?

What then? Do they get overlooked and dismissed?

Under the current remuneration model the answer is a whopping great “yes, they do.”

To understand why, we need to follow the money. The UK recruitment industry is vast, it contributes £43billion to the UK’s GDP, it’s the largest recruitment market in Europe and third largest in the world after the USA and Japan. It is also over a century old. Fun fact: the first employment agency was called Robinson Gabbitas & Thring, founded in 1873 to recruit schoolmasters for public schools in England! The point is, the ‘bums on seats’ recruitment model has been around so long it’s become hardwired into our psyche; it’s not something we question. The entire remuneration system is built on filling a position for the highest fee, and that means an immediate default to full-time, nine-to-five roles. The fastest finger on the send button wins the sale – the deal is done, the bum is on the seat, costs are met, and recruiters can ring the bell knowing they have hit their KPIs and are taking home a whopping great commission cheque. I hear it all the time – job done and on to the next.

The result? You haven’t necessarily hired the best person for the job. As a recruiter, you’ve pushed the person who will generate the highest fee for your company. And as a client, you’ve hired the best person who is willing to work full time. Not the same thing. And not great for UK plc.

So how do we get to a place where recruiters can look their clients in the eye and know hand on heart that they have found them the best person for the job – regardless of the time they spend doing the job?

I get it, it isn’t easy to challenge the status quo. Change is hard, invoices need paying, salaries paid for, profit generated, and competition is fierce so why be the one who puts their head above the parapet and suggest something different, especially if that might mean potentially earning less money. Harsh but true, which is why the recruitment industry has a grubby reputation.

At the moment the UK economy has a massive labour shortage, and it is set to continue. The FTSE 350 also has a massive problem on its hands; it has a screaming black hole of nowhere near enough mid to senior women who want to work for them, and the women won’t come back unless they are supported to ‘genuinely’ work flexibly. Next year companies are going to be hit by with even more regulation to address their gender equality, so the head winds are getting stronger and stronger. Now’s the time to act.

The industry needs to decide to be driven by more than money. Call it enlightened self-interest. And employers need to think more laterally about their recruitment strategy, as they wake up to the realisation that a flexible workforce is a more productive workforce. Call it good business sense.

From a recruiters’ perspective

What’s your intent? To make the most money at all costs or to widen your candidate pool? Do you want to be a follower or a leader? Only you can answer that question.

If it’s the former, adios.

If it’s the latter then great, please send me a message on LinkedIn as 2to3days has an amazing and growing pool of experienced female talent – all of whom genuinely want to work flexibly in mid to senior positions across the UK and industry.

You need to build a database of candidates who want to work flexibly. The first step is to stop dismissing – and at worst, mocking – female candidates who call to register with your company and advise that they want to work flexibly. Instead, you need to tune in and record their skills and experience and understand their flexible working needs – the must haves and the negotiables. Only then will you be in a strong position to give your client a better short list of candidates.

At the same time, you also need to challenge your client’s mindset, reminding them and encouraging them to redefine the job so that it can be done flexibly, part time and or as a job share.

And you need to accept a fee based on a pro rata salary, knowing that this is the right thing to do to open up and widen the pool of talent that will give your clients the best candidate for the role.

From a clients’ perspective 

What’s your intent as well? Do you actually want to attract and retain highly capable women and is your company invested in creating an inclusive place to work?

If not, then adios to you too.

If you are then great, please message me as well!

I get that it’s not that simple because you have to fundamentally believe, see and record the evidence that a flexible working workforce is more productive, if not what’s the point risking challenging the status quo.

Part of this is getting your heads around head count and ‘desk costs’ as sometimes a flexible workforce will mean more people, not less. But if the net result is a happier, more productive, more innovative and more profitable workforce it has surely got to be worth challenging the recruiters you work with to put forward candidates who want to work flexibly. Keep in mind the ultimate objective: to get the best person for the job.

Making the move

So, who’s going to make the first move? Change can only come about when both parties have a different conversation but the leader in the dance has to be the one who calls the shots, the client.

I’d like to see a conversation between a client and a recruiter which goes along the following lines:

Recruiter: “Hey, client, are you open to hiring the best person for the role if the best person wants to work flexibly?”

Client: “I sure am, please pass their CVs over to me straight away.”

Recruiter: “Great, I will. Also, I am happy that my fee is calculated on the same percentage (or similar) on the pro rata salary.” 

Celebrating the changemakers

There are some great recruitment companies who are 100% pro putting candidates forward on a flexible basis. They include Flexibility Matters founded by Emma Cleary Boldmove founded by Julia Fenwick 9-2-3 @Helen Wright and Hurston Eliot founded by Julia Colegate-Stone

And that's all from me this week - I hope, food for thought on a gorgeousily sunny Tuesday morning.

What have I been up to since my last newsletter? 

Watched - Air starring Ben Affleck and Matt Damon based on the true story of how Nike secured Michael Jordan; loved it! Caught with the bug of true and inspiring stories I went on to watch the Bank of Dave,a fabulous film based on the true-ish story of how Dave Fishwick set up a bank in Burnley, which is still going today for the people of Burnley who the traditional banks won't led money to! It's wonderful, starring Joel Fry, Phoebe Dyneva and Rory Kinnear.

Cooked - as the warm weather looks set to continue I thought I would share my 'chicken' top tip! Get in boned by the butcher. Then marinate it in either lemon, parsley and garlic or yoghurt and harissa paste and roast for an hour. Serve on a wooden chopping board all sliced ready to devour! Truly delicious and oh so easy!

Cycled - 20 miles at the weekend - the 55 mile London to Brighton bike ride is looming and it doesn't get any easier!

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