Returning to work (again)


By Matthew Langin

It’s been six months since 2021’s lockdown restrictions ended, and just as many of us began to embark on the brave new world of hybrid working…the Omicron variant sent us back to the warm embrace of our elasticated waistbands and a lunchtime dose of A Place in the Sun (just me?). Plan B restrictions meant many workplaces closed until the worst of it was over. A familiar tale.

So, how are industries doing as we, once again, emerge from the cocoon after another round of office-closures? Well, I wrote a blog in July 2021 where I spoke about the early plans employers were making for the return to work, proper. I thought it might be good to take another look at this and see how the employment market has been reacting to the pandemic early in 2022.

First, a bit of scene-setting

The end of 2021 actually saw a bit of a boom in recruitment across pretty much all industries. According to Emsi Burning Glass’ analysis, every sector saw demand for candidates rise – usually by quite a high level. Some of these sectors, like the care sector, had a very real shortfall BEFORE the pandemic, and recruitment stepped up to surpass 2019 levels in 2021.

There’s also been a rise in demand for certain skills, too. Emsi Burning Glass also reported a rise in demand for content-creation skills by 122% last year. The same with Google Analytics, and Sustainability too. All this really indicates that many businesses are now very much future-focused.

There were also rises in demand for certain job titles: office administration saw a 167% increase in job postings, sales staff (125%) and customer advisors (121%) pointing to a further requirement for lower-skilled roles that were potentially shed during the pandemic.

What are the drivers for a new way of working?

A lot has changed about the way we work. Technology has allowed us to stay connected, but it’s meant that the pace and volume of work has increased. And we’re quickly finding that it’s just not sustainable in the parameters of the tradition 9-5 workday.

A US study by Morning Consult, found that 55% of remote workers would consider quitting their jobs if their employer demanded they return to work in the physical office. People have established home offices, they’ve spent more time with their families and their cats, and so it’s going to take quite a shift to entice people away from these home comforts. This, added to the rise in demand that I mentioned earlier, means that candidates are truly in a position of strength in the market.

Monzo have just (at the time of writing), announced that they’re offering three-month paid sabbaticals to its employees, for every four years they work. It is part of an increased focus on wellbeing and mental health at the digital bank, which included its own founder stepping back for reasons that included anxiety and stress.

Yo Telecom are among a number of employees that are also testing a four-day working week for its 90 employees, with no reduction in pay. It is hoped that this forward-thinking approach will ultimately help boost productivity and general work satisfaction. Could this be the start of a revolution of the way we work, which has been in place since the early part of the 20th century?

Another example of a forward-thinking company, ‘disrupting the market’ with their approach to culture, are US company ServiceNow, who recently topped Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work list (2022). Their philosophy is quite simple on paper: recognising people as humans, with families and priorities outside of work. They bring people, their ideas, and passions together to create a thriving culture.

Will any barriers get in the way of this change?

In recent years, there seems to have been a lot of talk (and hope for some) that a real consideration for the four-day working week has to be made. And that’s definitely gaining greater traction. But there remains a great risk of division in the workplace – between the ins and the outs, the vaccinated and the not-vaccinated, and potentially the four versus the five-day weekers. For businesses that have a white and a blue-collar workforce, balancing the needs of both will no-doubt present a real challenge.