The Covid pandemic will be remembered for many, many things, but one silver lining of the extraordinary upheaval to our working lives is the positive steps many have taken to make their working lives better, more balanced and more enjoyable.
Even now, two years on, this trend to recalibrate – now commonly termed the Great Resignation – is showing no signs of slowing. In the last three months of 2021 alone, almost 1,000,000 people switched jobs in the UK according to the ONS.
Naturally, some of this movement is the result of pent-up demand for change, curbed by the pandemic and only now able to happen as the economy recovers and companies open up vacancies again. But industry experts unanimously agree that the volume of job movement is driven not just by pent-up demand but other factors – including a desire among workers for more flexible ways of working and a better work-life balance – which is leading many to predict long-term high volumes of job changes.
If you overlay job move data with age demographics, it’s clear that a high percentage of those moving roles or intending to move are younger people, who are typically still exploring roles early on in their careers.
In February, the polling company Ipsos announced findings that over half of 16–34-year-olds have considered resigning their roles and finding another within the previous three months.
This tallies with the findings of our own Future World of Work report which found that half (53%) of 18–34-year-olds told us they wouldn’t be willing to join organisations that were inflexible about the way people choose to work. Three in five believe that within the next 10 years, more people will have ‘portfolio careers’, holding more than one job as opposed to one role in a single organisation.
There’s no doubt that employers have a lot to learn from this unprecedented rate of job turnover. Companies that build inclusive cultures, have clear staff retention schemes and make people feel ‘seen’ – despite the prolonged, and some say indefinite, physical distribution of company workforces – will win the fight for talent.
Alongside those who have left to find jobs elsewhere are the increasing numbers of workers of all ages, across dozens of disciplines and industries, who are leaving permanent roles – not to do the same thing elsewhere, but to work more flexibly or for themselves, to have more control over their working lives.
In late 2021, one freelancer jobs platform, PeoplePerHour.com, reported an increase of 1.5 million freelancers registering for work since the start of the pandemic – a 63% increase. These workers, who are shaping how people will want and expect to work for decades to come, desire flexibility. Businesses are wise to this and these businesses are seeing results when they accommodate these preferences. Over half of UK small businesses that have used freelance labour believe contingent working helps to fuel productivity, nearly two thirds say it feeds a more positive company culture, and the same proportion think it improves the diversity of the workforce.
But freelance, flexible labour only works in the long term when the companies that allow it are able to adjust how they pay their people. Prompt payments – on time and in full – are critical, but not as universally achievable as we might expect them to be. It isn’t a problem of outmoded attitudes. Our Future World of Work report found that the biggest problem these businesses face is their antiquated financial infrastructure and legacy systems.
Here too, the employee holds the cards. We found that three in five freelancers will only work with businesses with a proven track record of payment, and nearly half will turn down further work with businesses that have been late to pay them. Companies that don’t adapt to the way they approach funding their business and paying their people will undoubtedly lose out in the fight for talent.
So will the Great Resignation ultimately become the Great Regret? For employees I think this will be unlikely. But for employers who don’t adapt their practices to meet the demand of this empowered workforce it certainly could. Workers are voicing what they want to do and the pace they want to do it and employers who don’t hear this war cry will undoubtedly regret missing out on the talent and flexibility they too can benefit from in this new world of work.
Richard Prime co-founded Sonovate in 2013 with his business partner Damon Chapple, to bring to market a platform that would simplify and accelerate the process of making payments to contingent workers by SMEs and enterprise businesses. Before establishing Sonovate, Richard spent more than 12 years in senior leadership roles at SThree Plc, the £1.3bn LSE-listed recruitment group that specialises in helping businesses across the world attract permanent and contract staff in the STEM sectors.