Employee Engagement

New research has revealed the strength of the UK workforce and its growth in optimism, stability and skills confidence since 2012, the period often considered the tail-end of the economic downturn.

The findings point to a more positive workforce that has continuously strengthened since the financial crash. Optimism has grown with just 12% of respondents reporting feeling very optimistic about their future in the workplace in 2012, a figure that jumped to 27% in 2019.

ADP’s Workforce View report has surveyed around 1,500 UK employees every year since 2012, tracking changes in their attitudes, beliefs and opinions. With the 2019 Workforce View report having recently been released, the research shows a strong UK workforce although concerns around the future of work and workplace inequality persist.

A stronger workforce following the financial downturn

The research illustrates a remarkable improvement in prospects since the early 2010s. In 2012, 55% of employees were worried about job security and in 2013 22% believed work would never return to normal following the financial downturn. In 2013, 40% saw their future at work as unstable – a figure that dropped to 29% in 2014 and then to a quarter (25%) in 2015.

At the same time, skills confidence has increased in the last seven years. In 2012, just 79% of workers were confident they held the necessary skills to succeed in their role, yet just two years later this figure rose to 91% before dipping slightly to 87% in 2019.

Concerns around the future of work

However, the study also shows there are still fears around how jobs will change in the future. In 2013, around a fifth of workers (22%) said they believed that they would have to retrain to keep up with changes in their role in the next five years, and in 2019 over a quarter (27%) believed their job will be automated or replaced by a robot in the next five years. While the workforce is more positive and confident than in past years, there are continued concerns around preparing for the transformations of the future.

Conflict and inequality in the workplace

In recent years there has been a growing awareness around gender inequality in the workplace, particularly around shared parental leave and the new gender pay gap reporting. However, some advances have fallen short of expectations.

In 2012, 37% said they would take advantage of shared parental leave now or in the next ten years, yet 2018 figures showed that shared parental leave is sometimes as low as 2%. Mothers are still likelier to carry the brunt of the childcaring responsibility, more often opting to take leave from work, cut their hours and, ultimately, put their career on hold.

Many claim the gender pay gap can be linked back to the fact that women more often take time out of work to care for children, and the government has recently announced plans to launch a consultation looking at how the parental leave system can be improved. Alongside this, gender pay gap reporting was implemented in 2018 in order to galvanise companies into action and the Workforce View report shows support has continued to grow. In 2018, 14% felt there was a need for gender pay gap reporting – a figure that jumped to 23% in 2019.

Other key changes include the rise of intergenerational conflict in the office. In 2012, more than half of the working nation (54%) were aware of intergenerational issues in their workplace, rising to 66% by 2015.

The rise of flexible working

Through the years, flexible working has also risen on the agenda as more people begin to focus on the importance of work-life balance. In 2012, employees said that, aside from pay, the top workplace motivator was praise and recognition from management, yet from 2014 onwards the most popular option was generally centred around flexible working and work-life balance. This confirms the prediction in 2012 when 32% of respondents said the ability to work when and where they want would be the top motivator for the next ten years.

Melanie Robinson, Senior HR Director at ADP, commented: “It’s encouraging to see how confident and positive the workforce is since the downturn of the late 2000s and early 2010s. Businesses have been through enormous change but have handled this well, alongside managing the challenges raised by digital transformation and significant change in the political sphere.”

Robinson continued: “While highly positive, this doesn’t mean organisations can rest on their laurels. Our research has found that there is still significant work to do in reducing workplace inequality and, while it is no easy feat, businesses and society must do more to address this and change entrenched stereotypes. The rise of flexible working ties in with this in many ways, allowing families to better balance their work and home lives. To stay ahead of the curve and attract top talent, businesses must ensure they’re doing everything to offer employees the benefits and opportunities that will help them get the best out of their employees.”

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