The Workplace is Changing… Again.
COVID not only changed the way we work, but it also altered the balance of power in the workplace.
In sync with the adoption of new technology, reduced travel, and shift in working models, one of the more surprising differences, as we came out of the epidemic, was a reversal of control in the workplace and, in particular, the recruitment market.
Following a low period for new vacancies, millions of people around the globe suddenly chose to reassess their priorities and, in many cases left their current roles in search of a better work-life balance. Simultaneously, firms began expanding quickly and, in an instant, power transferred from employers to employees.
With savvy leaders responding quickly to protect key recruits, they inadvertently opened an opportunity for people to strengthen their position at work by negotiating salary increases and more flexibility for their roles.
Without people to fill the rising vacancies, it meant that skilled workers could enjoy a position of power as they knew they could look elsewhere and quickly find someone willing to offer what they want.
The impact of the downturn
Fast forward to today, and as inflation soars and the cost-of-living rises, in real terms, many people are facing the equivalent of a pay cut.
Regrettably, the economic downturn is also pushing some firms toward redundancies as they restructure in the aftermath of rapid expansion. This has shifted the equilibrium of power back toward businesses.
As employers tighten their belts, several global companies are already flexing their newfound confidence by requesting to bring employees back into the office environment daily, which is a brave and significant cultural shift.
All things are not equal
If history is anything to go by, the impact of power moving back to employers will not be the same for everyone.
In the face of a global recession, typically it is lower-skilled roles or people starting out in their careers that are the hardest hit. As good jobs become trickier to find, experience takes over and becomes ever more important.
In contrast, where there remains an acute shortage of skills, competition for the best people will continue with top talent holding all the cards. That means in professional industries like practice accountancy, employees are likely to maintain a wide choice of roles and enjoy the opportunity to seek higher salaries and improved benefits.
What does it mean to you?
When the balance of power lies with employers, in general, the consequences will be unequal. Some workers will keep the flexibility and benefits they gained during COVID, while others will have to accept whatever their employer offers.
Whether this culminates in a return to pre-pandemic working conditions, I am not sure, as some of the changes made during that time will be difficult to reverse and motivationally detrimental.
If you are an employee currently at the grace of your employer, however, now might be a good time to consider returning to the office voluntarily. Creating closer bonds and spending more time face-to-face with your colleagues could be an important step toward feeling continually secure in your job and progressing during challenging times.
As an employer, if budgets are tight, it is greater flexibility that will soon become your key battleground for talent. Companies that remain conscious of employees’ needs will be the most successful at retaining and attracting talent so, even if you have the desire to reduce workplace flexibility, I suggest you are very careful when you approach it. The wider implications of being too aggressive are significant.
In the end, the best piece of advice I can offer is to try and find time to think about how you feel. What – apart from money – would attract you to join a company? Why would you stay with one? By putting yourself in someone else’s shoes you will make smarter decisions, and that is the best way to succeed.