News & Insights

Post-pandemic priorities – what’s changed?

Since the pandemic began, we have seen priorities continuously shift as employers have had to adapt not only to survive, but to attract the right employees and to stay appealing at a time of great competition in the labour market.

Every year at our Employment & Immigration Law Update webinar we ask business owners, HR professionals and in-house counsel what their number one HR priority is for the coming 12 months.  They are able to choose between; restructuring / cost-cutting; recruitment / retention; changing working practices; wellbeing / mental health; and improving skills / performance.

The changing results from 2020 to 2022 give an insight into the shift in business challenges over time.

In 2020 and right through into 2021, businesses prioritised changes in working practices. Making the transition and finding ways to enable employees to work remotely, without jeopardising the quality of work, brought on a challenge that has quickly turned into a perk that employees are willing to prioritise. This has contributed to the existence of ‘The Great Resignation’ with employees leaving their jobs to find better pay and a more flexible lifestyle. Naturally, this has put a significant strain on businesses who may have already made staffing cuts during the peak of the pandemic, which was a significant focus at 26% in 2020.

Now looking forward into 2022, almost half of employers will make their priority retaining and recruiting staff, which is an incredible leap from only 6% in 2020. In many ways, this shows how the employment market has shifted into the hands of the employees who are happy to seek out employers who are willing to match their needs. With hybrid working becoming a more common approach it is possible that the five days in the office model is outdated and will discourage potential candidates from applying. This has resulted in an increase in questions on how best to build flexible working into employment contracts and how to ensure that the same quality of work is achieved, and what to do if it is not. But even in this situation, 42% is a significant number of businesses planning to prioritise recruitment and retention, which may naturally result in a more flexible approach and a focus on improving working environments, thereby reducing the risk of mass employee resignations.

Although flexible working does appear to be here to stay it is important to not ignore the conversations surrounding mental health that have been very prominent throughout the pandemic with employers seeking ways to support their employees both at home and on site. Although this concern was at its highest in 2020 (25%), it remained at 24% in 2021 and for 2022 is the second highest priority at 19%. Not only does this reflect the difficulties caused by the pandemic but it also coincides with the need to retain staff and how it is not enough to only focus on the quality of work. Instead, it shows the importance of taking into consideration the quality of life for employees and to work towards reducing the pressures on existing employees who may find themselves having to take on higher workloads during ‘The Great Resignation.’

Throughout this period of change a lot of people are using the opportunity to move into different careers as the staff shortage means that there are a lot more vacancies and companies are willing to take on more staff at entry level and train them. Although this has many benefits both to the people and the businesses recruiting, it unfortunately also means that lower skilled jobs such as hospitality and retail are continuing to lose staff at a higher rate after already being some of the most heavily affected industries during the pandemic. In 2020 improving performance was the lowest priority at only 5% but this has now gradually increased to 13% in 2022. There are many possibilities as to why this is now becoming a higher priority again, but it is likely that having suffered higher turnovers and staff shortages, training has not been a priority.  As businesses come out of the pandemic there is a need for focus on the development and overall performance of employees to support recovery. This in turn, should help with retaining staff as employees feel better suited to their roles and career progression is enabled by continued training.

From our poll results, it is clear that the pandemic has completely changed the labour market and it will certainly be interesting to see how this develops as we head through 2022 and into 2023.  It could be that the difficulties retaining staff will no longer be such a concern, or that the job market will return to a more balanced state. Either way, it remains clear that the pandemic has completely changed the way that we work and the way that we live.