Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

Economic uncertainty threatens to wind back “pandemic progress” in UK workplaces

As economic storm clouds gather, the flexibility and freedoms introduced during the pandemic that employees benefited from are now at risk.

  • As the economic pendulum swings, UK business leaders are being forced to make tough choices that threaten recent progress around flexibility, employee wellbeing and skills development 
  • LinkedIn data finds that remote work has passed its peak, with remote job postings declining globally 
  • This is at odds with what professionals want - flexible work, skills development opportunities and work-life balance are what they value most 
  • Companies that pull back on the new way of work will push talent away which could negatively impact long-term business performance 

As economic storm clouds gather, the flexibility and freedoms introduced during the pandemic that employees benefited from are now at risk. New research conducted by LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network, finds that in the UK, the current climate is causing concern among business leader that companies will be forced to wind back progress on important areas of working life such as flexible work (75%), skills development (76%), and employee wellbeing (83%). 

This comes as new analysis of remote job postings on LinkedIn shows that remote roles are in decline. According to LinkedIn data, in the UK, hiring for remote jobs peaked in January 2022, when almost 16% of jobs listed on the platform were remote. This is compared to just under 12% in September 2022. This mirrors a trend we are seeing in countries around the world and is likely a sign that remote work has peaked as employers look to get teams back into the office.

Employer and employee disconnect 

The LinkedIn study of 272 C-level executives from large organisations across the UK, combined with LinkedIn jobs data, highlights a growing disconnect between what professionals want and what employers are now offering, with the balance of power shifting back to employers as hiring slows. 

This is despite the fact that according to LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends report, flexible work comes top of the list of priorities that employees value in employers today, even beyond compensation. Skills development and work-life balance also feature high up on the list - other areas that are at risk of being scaled back during economic uncertainty.

Professionals are refusing to return to the old ways of work. In many countries, applications to remote roles vastly outstrip supply. While  just under 12% of jobs in the UK are remote, they're receiving more than 20% of applications in September 2022. 

Becky Schnauffer, Head of Global Clients, EMEA & LATAM, at LinkedIn said: “Our Global Talent Trends report serves as an important reminder that flexibility is no longer just a nice to have, it’s become necessary for many. In fact, our research shows that flexibility is the top priority for people looking for new roles in the UK. It’s clear that scaling back on flexibility in response to this period of economic uncertainty could create a disconnect between companies and employees, and wind back progress made in the workplace over recent years. By having a clear understanding of what drives employees, employers can build out hiring and retention strategies that will effectively attract and retain top talent.” 

Anthony Klotz, Professor of Organisational Behaviour, UCL School of Management, said: “Leaders are caught between the allure of returning to old ways of working, and the challenge of looking toward the future and rethinking how they lead and how their employees work. As LinkedIn’s study indicates, some of those in positions of power are opting out of the opportunity that this moment presents. But it’s those that embrace the mantle of leadership and turn into reality the vision that so many workers can clearly see – a future in which employees’ relationships with their employers are a source of wellbeing – who will come out stronger. It is these visionary leaders who are positioning their companies and their employees to thrive in the long-term.”

Employee commitment crucial to getting through tough times

With turbulence ahead, UK leaders say keeping employees motivated and engaged is their number one workforce priority over the next six months. This comes as they also recognise that financial strains due to the increased cost of living (49%), and worries over being laid off (33%) are playing on employees’ minds currently. 

Leading through uncertainty

As companies navigate uncertainty, one area of agreement is clear - communication is critical. It’s the top soft skill global leaders identified as necessary to getting through this time, followed by problem solving, transparency and empathy. In fact, the soft skills of problem solving, communication, and strategy were featured in 78% of jobs posted globally on LinkedIn over the last three months. Rather than leaving their teams in the dark on the tough decisions ahead, leaders need to build bridges to their employees and bring them on the journey with them. 

To get through the uncertainty ahead, LinkedIn advises leaders to:

  • Take an adaptive leadership approach - Leaders must be transparent about the current reality and adapt to what lies ahead, whilst providing employees with clarity on short-term business priorities. They should see this period as an opportunity to iterate and adjust, which will stand them in good stead when the cycle ends. 
  • Maintain workforce connection and trust - Today just 45% of UK employers encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing amongst employees. By helping employees to build connections with their colleagues, employers can energise their teams and strengthen their company culture. Furthermore, returning to command and control styles of leadership and dictating that employees must be in the office will quickly erode trust. 
  • Focus on skills - The skill sets needed for jobs has changed by around 25% since 2015 and this number is expected to double by 2027. By understanding the skills your employees have today, and the skills your company needs in the future, companies can hire or redeploy talent into growth areas. 

With the uncertainty ahead comes opportunity. To help leaders navigate it and lead to a new future of work, LinkedIn has made a number of LinkedIn Learning courses available for free until November 30th - including courses on How To Future Proof Your Organisation and Become a Multiplier of Wellbeing In Your Organisation. LinkedIn has also published its Global Talent Trends report which provides leaders with insight into how labour market trends are affecting employees and workplaces.