The pandemic brought significant changes to employment practices, as many businesses switched to working remotely. Since restrictions lifted, a large number of organisations have adopted a hybrid approach to give greater flexibility on where people work.
The battle for talent
2022 has been a tough year for recruitment with the first half seeing record numbers of vacancies. That appears to have reduced recently with the ONS reporting that, from August to October 2022, there were a total number of 1.225 million vacancies. This represented another 3.6% fall on the previous quarter.
Unemployment fell to a record low of 3.5% between June to August. On 15 November, the ONS reported that for July-September 2022 it rose very slightly to 3.6%. As the UK has moved into a recession, the ONS has forecast unemployment will rise to 4.9% by the third quarter of 2024 but fall to 4.1% by late 2027.
A number of Club members reported their businesses are still struggling to fill all the placements they have.
Supporting employee wellbeing in the challenging economy
Even before the pandemic there was a growing interest in the wellbeing of an organisation’s workforce, with employers taking greater efforts to reduce burnout in their staff.
This and the battle for talent have all made headlines over the past 12 months. It is prompting some employers to look at more innovative ways to nurture, incentivise and retain their staff.
Of course, this isn’t helped by the cost-of-living crisis and soaring inflation. Despite continued growth in average pay, the impact of inflation is undermining the real value of pay packets. And with many tax allowances frozen by the Chancellor in his November 2022 speech, it means growth in salaries could bring more tax.
Adapting and innovating
While employers are trying to pay staff more, other rising operational costs are making it tough to ensure wages cope with the cost of living.
It’s forcing some businesses to look at using technology and automation more in parts of their operations. Outsourcing is also helping to fill some gaps, however, there are off-payroll considerations to be mindful of. Other employers are reviewing their operations to see how they can create a more appealing working environment to attract recruits.
Needless to say, it looks as if the end of 2022 and the start of 2023 will bring further evolution and innovation in the world of work.
Coping with current challenges
The Club members discussed a case study of a fictitious creative agency business with offices in London, Edinburgh and Paris. The business was facing a number of common challenges:
- Staff were being head-hunted by much bigger agencies with salaries and benefits packages the company couldn’t compete with.
- The agency had been plugging staffing gaps with external sub-contractors, but it had been hard to maintain the standards and values the business had carefully fostered with its in-house staff.
- The remote working environment was proving challenging when training younger members of the team. The agency’s senior team felt a degree of on-site working is required to help staff learn more quickly from one another.
- The agency had just won 4 major projects but was seriously struggling to deliver them in time, given staff shortages.
- The costs of the three offices had risen dramatically over the past year and were set to rise further. This was significantly eating into profitability and the company’s reserves.
- Some of the middle management tier in different offices had voiced concerns that they didn’t feel there was a long-term career path, given the current organisational set up.
Encouraging staff to stay and building loyalty
Club members proposed these potential solutions to help the business encourage staff to stay:
- Investigating more affordable incentive schemes linked to staff performance – for example, the Enterprise Management Incentive or another share option-focused initiative. These could help encourage staff to resist the approaches of head-hunters.
- Investing in management training to help all the team cope better in the hybrid working environment, and spot and resolve any problems or motivational issues much earlier.
- Supporting cheaper commutes for staff by offering the cycle to work scheme or using salary sacrifice schemes for electric car purchases.
- Conducting regular staff surveys to assess any problems which can be resolved. One club member reported their company sends out a weekly ‘how’s it going?’ survey to staff. This is quick and anonymous to complete and gives a barometer of current sentiment within the team. It alerts management to any problems which have suddenly arisen, and once a month they report on the steps taken to resolve the issues which have been flagged.
- Fostering greater team spirit via social events, ‘Fun Fridays’ and other such initiatives. One Club member reported that the employee experience platform Office Vibe, has greatly helped their organisation.
Adjusting the structure, operations and working environment in light of rising costs
Club members suggested the following measures to help the agency cope with rising costs:
- Downsizing or moving the offices to a less expensive location.
- Reducing the reliance on sub-contracting by recruiting more in-house staff.
- Investing in management training and working to foster a stronger ‘productivity-focused’ culture.
- Reviewing operations and processes to see if the agency can deliver projects more efficiently.
- Using new software like deskbird to help teams work more effectively in a hybrid environment.
Ensuring the delivery of the 4 new projects, given the current staffing issues
Club members recommended these measures for the agency’s senior team to consider as they tried to deliver the 4 new projects:
- Conducting a review of the agency’s client portfolio – could any unprofitable clients be divested to give more time to the new contracts?
- Investing in more training for the agency’s sub-contractors so there is a more cohesive approach.
- Offering completion bonuses to staff and/or contactors to ensure the projects are produced well and on time.
- Training in-house staff and giving more responsibility to junior members of the team so the work can be completed by a wider group of people.
- Negotiating with the clients concerned what are absolute and ‘nice to have’ deadlines – so time can be managed more effectively.
Since the pandemic, the world of work has changed dramatically. Despite Government restrictions ending, lessons and innovations from that time are causing the nature of employment to evolve further. This is set to continue as businesses face new challenges in the form of the recession and rising costs. Finding ways to retain a happy and productive workforce will, no doubt, greatly help them ride out the tough times ahead.
For starters, and as one Club member rightly pointed out, organisations were very good at communicating with their staff at the start and during the pandemic. With the outlook looking uncertain again (but for different reasons), it is important to keep internal communications and dialogue flowing again with staff.
Thank you to all the Club members who joined us at our November event. If you would like to attend our future Business Club events, please contact the Shipleys’ Godalming team for more information.
Specific advice should be obtained before taking action, or refraining from taking action, in relation to this summary.
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