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It’s official: workers don’t want to return to the way we were.

Mark Price, Founder | WorkL
February 3, 2021

As an archaeologist and keen natural historian, I’ve been drawn to events that have overthrown the natural evolutionary process, such as a meteorite strike which destroyed the dinosaurs, or volcanic eruptions and natural disasters obliterating cities and civilisations allowing the chance to start again afresh. While not as dramatic 2020 has shown again how adaptable we are as a species. Covid has forced us to change so much about the way we live our lives, around travel, leisure, family and friends and the way we work. Some things have perhaps changed for the better, others not so. The question many in business are pondering is will and should the world of work return to the way it was once we get on top of the pandemic?

My answer is no; based not only on what I’ve seen but more importantly the data I’ve collected from 100s of thousands of employees taking the workplace happiness test over the last 12 months.

Two things have become clear to me; firstly, that the employee has become a top agenda item for organisations in a way they weren’t before Covid, for health and wellbeing and economic reasons. And secondly the positive response from employees to managements’ supportive actions, coupled with their sustained implementation, makes reversing fully the new business practices difficult and I would argue undesirable.

The facts show that we were becoming far more flexible in the way we were working before the pandemic. Pre-Covid there were 1.5 million employees regularly working from home in the UK and this number was predicted to quadruple over the next ten years. Fast forward to the end of this year and now 60% of the UK adult population are working from home, over 20 million employees.

Management has tangibly demonstrated its care for its employees’ health: PPE, screens, hand gels, social distancing and employees have recognised this and appreciate it. Pre Covid employees scored their manager 6 out of 10 in caring for their wellbeing but this has now jumped to more than 7 out of 10. There is a watch out however as we’ve seen a rise, from 58% to 61%, in the number of people saying they feel anxious at work.

Those employees who have moved to work from home are also happier. Before the pandemic the average workplace happiness score was 64% and now, we have seen it increase to 72%. This jump is down to a number of factors such as dropping the commute, cost and time, the flexibility to manage their own time and work in a comfortable space. Home workers say they are now better rewarded, up from 62% to 69% and they prefer their home working environment (up 3% to 66.56%). Whether their new office is the kitchen table, or a shed in the garden, there has been a 6% increase in people content with where they work now compared to pre-Covid (63% vs 69%).

It is clear that management has put increased energy into communications as employees report they are being told more compared to earlier this year. So much so that questions around information sharing are the highest scoring in our research and have jumped six percentage points (66% vs 72%). This is important as the open and free sharing of information is the precursor to greater individual empowerment. Given this positive result it is not surprising that employees feel more empowered to make decisions with a score of 73% compared to 65% pre-Covid, and say they are allowed to make more decisions when compared to the beginning of 2020, up from 64% to 73%. In short employees now feel more empowered and responsible, an outcome employers won’t want to lose. Furthermore, workers feel that they are recognised more when they do something well (+ 4%) and that their views are listened to more (+ 8%). Trust has had to be given to homeworkers and they have responded by saying that they are more productive, up 8%. It has also led to a healthier relationship between managers and workers in many instances, with people saying that they have a good relationship with their line manager having gone up from 70%-76%.

I’m not a fan of averages. If your head is in the oven and your feet in the fridge, you’re an average temperature! An organisation knowing the average scores for employee engagement is all well and good but the real gold is in understanding the highs and lows. So below I’ve drawn out some of the key points for different groups.

Over the lockdown period we have seen men become increasingly happy at work, and in a reversal of 2019, men have overtaking women slightly, (72% to 70%) with women noticeably feeling least heard at work. Childcare responsibilities during lockdown fell usually to women who suddenly had to juggle caring and teaching children as well as working their usual 9pm-5pm job which our research suggests created the shift.

We have seen an improvement in happiness across all age groups this year although, 19-24-year old’s have benefited the least over lockdown, mainly down to a lack of face-to-face direction from more senior team members and the absence of socialising. These facets are a key part in helping to understand the culture of a business and to build relationships with colleagues. Younger workers usually have a poorer work environment than their older colleagues, often sharing a home with flat mates and their productivity is more likely to be impacted. Younger workers are much keener to return to the office than older workers because older workers believe that they can be more efficient working from home. 

I am happy with my working environment: PRE vs POST COVID results

19-24 year olds: 63.69% vs 66.55%

25-34 year olds: 58.66% vs 70.1%

35-44 year olds: 61.15% vs 70.71%

45-55 year olds: 64.94% vs 72.8% 

55-64 year olds: 66.04% vs 72.73% 

65+ year olds: 72.03% vs 82.77%

The Black Lives Matters movement following George Floyd’s murder earlier this year has highlighted the worrying ethnicity gap, especially at work. Our data shows that black women are the least likely to feel empowered at work and black men are the least happy at work. The data also reveals a worrying pay gap amongst ethnicities with white men and women happier with their pay than all other ethnicities. 

“I am fairly paid”

White = 68.35%

Black/Carribean/African overall = 59.93%

Asian = 64.69%

‘Other’ = 58.79%

Multiple ethnicities = 66.21%

‘I am being developed: 

White = 62.77%

Black/Carribean/African overall = 58.82%

Asian = 65.93%

‘Other’ = 55.59%

Multiple ethnicities = 60.17%

*Other = Chinese, Arab & anything other

Hospitality and Retail rank poorly in the Happiest Industries Table, which isn’t surprising considering the impact lockdown restrictions continue to have on both sectors. People working in technology are however the happiest. Compared to last year where Technology lagged down the table in 5th place, it seems we’ve seen the Technology sector become a place for wellbeing and happiness at work. 

Happiest industries to work in in the UK:

Technology (UK)- 79%

Marketing and Advertising- 75%

Business and Management services -73%

Non-Profit Organisations- 73%

Real Estate and Leasing - 72%

Telecommunications & Publishing- 70%

Legal Services- 70%

Construction and Building Materials- 70%

Entertainment and Media- 70%

Education- 69%

Financial Services- 69%

Public Sector- 69%

Healthcare- 69%

Fast Moving Consumer Goods- 69%

Wholesale- 69%

Architecture and Engineering- 68%

Energy- 68%

Travel and Leisure- 68%

Hospitality- 68%

Aerospace and Defence- 67%

Agriculture, forestry and fishing- 67%

Retail- 67%

Transportation and Logistics-67%

Automotive and Engineering- 67%

Chemicals- 64%

Looking forward, 75% of managers currently working from home want to keep doing so in some form post-pandemic. With 59% of managers want to work from home a couple of days a week, and 16% saying permanently home working is likely to be a permanent feature of the UK’s ‘new normal’. But for this group training and development is a significant issue. While management score more highly on having company wide information they score less well in having sufficient knowledge to do their jobs. 

Management stats PRE vs POST: 

“I feel happy at work” 

63.95% vs 70.63%

“I do something worthwhile” 

71.98% vs 77.84%

To conclude our research recognises that there are things which work less well now than before: creativity, connection, training and career development. Not everyone has a comfortable home or conducive working conditions. So, after the revolution in working practices wrought by the pandemic, I think there needs to be a period of evolution in how we now work. It seems clear to me that we won’t be going back to the way we were. Our research shows that just 18% of employees want to return to how it was. Furthermore, there are benefits for employers too from a new more flexible and empowered workforce. 2021 will be the year when employers and employees decide what the new work normal will be; no doubt there needs to be further changes but we’re set for a bright new future at work, in, or out of the office.

Original source: WorkL


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