Tag: Covid-19

But will Omicron undo gains made in the economy?  

According to the latest unemployment stats released by ONS, there were 29.4m employees in the UK. This is an increase of 257,000 on revised October 2021 figures and up 424,000 on pre-pandemic February 2020 figures.

However, ONS stated that redundancies made at the end of the furlough scheme could be included in the Real Time Information (RTI) data for a few more months. But responses to the business survey, stated that redundancy numbers are likely to be a small number of those employees still on furlough at the end of September.

The latest Labour Force Survey indicates that employment rose by 0.2 percentage points from August to October with the number of part-time workers decreasing dramatically during the pandemic.

Decreasing employment rates among young people (those aged 16 to 24 years) have been notable during the pandemic, with unemployment and economic inactivity rates increasing by more than for those aged 25 years and over. But according to the survey, there was an increase in the employment rate and a decrease in the unemployment rate to below pre-coronavirus rates.

Numbers of job vacancies continued to rise to a new record of 1,219m jobs – that is an astounding increase of 434,500 from pre-COVID figures of January to March of 2020.

Neil Carberry, Chief Executive of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), commented: “The issue of labour shortages is hugely challenging for employers right now, as vacancies continue to hit new highs and unemployment remains low. But the real elephant in the room is rising inactivity and a smaller UK workforce – people either not in the UK or not looking for work. Reflecting this, overall hours worked are still well below our pre-pandemic numbers. This is a huge challenge to business and government. New approaches to recruitment and workforce planning are needed – and genuine partnership between government and employers on skills, unemployment support and sensible immigration rules.

“We don’t know yet how the Omicron variant will affect the jobs market, but it is clear that supporting businesses to retain staff and maintain cashflow was a successful strategy in 2020, and we may need to dust off those plans again if we are headed for a longer period of restrictions.”

James Reed, chairman of Reed, also commented: “There’s been plenty of talk from doomsayers that the Omicron variant will plunge us back into economic despair, but the outlook appears much more optimistic now compared with the first COVID-19 wave we faced in March 2020.”

He continued: “While some may want you to think the omicron variant has tipped the battle against COVID-19 in the virus’s favour, the reality is that, according to our jobs data, there are better opportunities and better negotiations for workers to have with employers than ever before. It’s currently the best time in fifty years to look for a new job and I’d urge anyone thinking of a change in career to begin their search for a fresh start in the new year.”

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Staff still leave current roles for bigger wages

Employers are facing the worst candidate shortage on record but according to research from international recruitment agency Aspire, two thirds (65%) of people currently working are either searching for or are open to new roles. This will offer hope to hiring businesses.

Employers have, however, been advised to plan for a potential ‘great resignation’, which is likely to see existing workers move jobs if businesses aren’t able to meet the changing needs of staff.

Nearly 600 candidates working across a range of industries from creative to marketing, technology and sales, took part in the study which explored the key issues facing the labour market in the wake of the pandemic.

But this data also serves as an important reminder to businesses about the need to cater for employees’ evolving job requirements, in order to hold onto workers, explained Aspire founder, Paul Farrer: “Given the sheer number of job vacancies right now it’s crucial that employers have a plan in place not only to win this fiercely competitive war for talent but also to retain their current workers. As we have seen with the petrol crisis, an inability to secure talent can result in organisations ceasing to function.”

Paul Farrer made further comment: “Salary is often the first consideration for people when they are prompted, but it’s much more complex than that. The pandemic created a perfect storm. People who may have otherwise moved jobs in 2020 stayed put due to COVID-19 uncertainty. So 2021 sees two years’ worth of employees seeking change. Salary freezes and stalled promotional prospects in 2020 are also playing out. We are witnessing wage inflation across many sectors too, with employers having seen their staff leave for significant rises elsewhere.

“In this environment, smaller, independent organisations have the advantage over larger businesses to a degree. They benefit from agility and are able to move swiftly, make critical hiring and salary decisions there and then. But our research shows that it’s not all about the money. Flexible working policies, a clear and realistic progression path and a genuine commitment to diversity and inclusion have become increasingly important to jobseekers.”

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Businesses need to do all they can to keep staff amidst skill shortages

A survey by CV-Library has revealed that 46% of workers are feeling uncomfortable around unvaccinated colleagues. According to the survey of 2,000 professionals, a massive 58.5% of UK employees want to know if their colleagues have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and a further 58.8% would speak to their manager about it.

A third (32.4%) of respondents admitted that they would consider changing jobs rather than work with a colleague who hadn’t been vaccinated against the virus.

Lee Biggins, CEO and founder of CV-Library comments: “With the Government warning of a tough winter ahead and many UK professionals returning to the workplace, in some capacity, it’s understandable that staff want to remain as safe as possible. However, this presents a unique challenge for business owners and managers.”

“Whilst staff safety should be the ultimate priority, it’s also important that employees who have chosen to not get the COVID-19 vaccine aren’t discriminated against. It’s a fine balance and, with the current record job postings and staff shortages, businesses need to do all they can to keep hold of their staff and ensure that they’re both happy and comfortable in the workplace.”

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75% of companies have suffered confidence-damaging cyber-attacks

A new report by FTI Consulting indicates that more companies are coming under scrutiny for their business practises and behaviour.

The top three areas of investigation worries are: business conduct and the treatment of customers, sustainability and ESG practices, and the relationship with public bodies and government contracts. According to the report, a quarter of UK respondents identified each of these areas as major concerns. The services sector and financial sector were the most likely to report experiencing regulatory or political scrutiny over the past 12 months (23% each).

Potential emerging crises

 According to The Resilience Barometer the nature, severity and potential trajectory of these threats are forcing companies to embed resilience on more fronts:

Growing cybersecurity threats: 75% of companies surveyed suffered a cyber-attack in the past 12 months, with a rise in phishing attacks among the most prevalent type with 25% experiencing a loss of customer/patient data, and a further 23% reporting a loss of third-party information.

Class actions and mass consumer claims: 13% of respondents experienced these in the past 12 months, and 12% expect this to continue in the next 12 months.

The “Great Resignation”: Over the last 12 months, 28% of companies surveyed have experienced a shortage of talent and skills, and 72% have reported increased mental health issues in their workforce since the start of the pandemic.

Edward Westerman, Global Investigations Initiative Leader at FTI Consulting commented: “The ever-changing landscape will put the onus on companies to take a proactive stance regarding investigations. Leveraging new technologies and data and analytics can help companies efficiently manage an ongoing investigation and help mitigate the risk of future crises.”

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Last week may have begun with Freedom Day but it’s been anything but for many workers around the country thanks to what has been dubbed the ‘pingdemic’.

A survey by independent job board CV-Library revealed that more than a third (39.9%) of workers knew someone who had been unable to return to work due to being required to isolate.

More than 600,000 people were pinged by the NHS’s Covid-19 app in the week to July 14, meaning they were advised to stay home and quarantine for 10 days. It was the highest weekly figure so far and was up 19% on the previous week.

The CV-Library survey of more than 1,300 UK professionals found that a whopping 69.8% of those isolating were doing so after having been notified via the Covid-19 app.

The huge number of people in quarantine has led to worker shortages across a number of industries, with supermarkets such as Iceland and Lidl reporting significant impacts on their operations. Royal Mail and London Underground services have also been affected, with the latter having shut down the Metropolitan Line for an entire day recently after staff were pinged.

Lee Biggins, CEO and founder of CV-Library, said: “Keeping staff safe should be the highest priority for employers across the country. However, such huge disruptions to staffing will cause countless problems for the recovery of the UK economy. Many businesses will have to reduce operating hours – or in some cases, close – as capacity will be lower, hindering a much-needed recovery over the summer.”

The survey found that the possibility of being told to isolate was weighing heavily on workers’ minds, with 50% of professionals concerned about having to isolate. Nearly 13% were concerned that isolation would affect their work, 8.6% were worried it would interfere with their personal plans and 28.4% thought it could interfere with both.

This had led to one in three (34.4%) changing their behaviour to avoid having to isolate. The changes included cancelling plans with friends and keeping children at home until the end of term.

The motivation for a significant percentage (32.1%) of those taking extra precautions was to make sure they could still go on a planned holiday in the next few weeks.

Biggins added: “It’s no surprise that isolation is so concerning for professionals. All of us are eager to get back to normal and enjoy meeting with friends and family – especially in this lovely weather – but 10 days of isolation could cause financial hardship for many families and ruin summer plans as schools break up. We encourage employers to offer as much support as possible to staff members that are forced to isolate.”

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Employers are significantly under-reporting the number of people who have died after being exposed to Covid-19 at work, according to the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

The union said there was a large discrepancy between the number of people of working age who had died from Covid-19 and the number of reports of work-related deaths by employers.

It pointed out that while Office for National Statistics figures showed that between April 2020 and April 2021 15,263 people of working age had died of Covid-19, employers had reported just 387 deaths from workers contracting the disease at work.

The TUC said it believed the true number of work-related deaths was much higher, and highlighted sectors such as food production and transport as having been particular guilty of under-reporting.

In a report published last week the union pointed out that between March and December last year, more than 600 people working in the transport sector died of Covid-19, but between April 2020 and April 2021 just 10 work-related deaths were reported in the sector.

Similarly, while 63 food production workers died from Covid-19 over the same period, just three were reported as work-related.

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, said: “Everybody deserves to be safe at work. But this pandemic has exposed a crisis in health and safety regulation and enforcement.

“Employers have massively under-reported Covid work-related deaths and infections.”

‘Letting bosses off the hook’

“This has made it much harder for regulators to track where outbreaks are happening and allowed bad bosses to get away with flagrant labour rights abuses,” she continued.

O’Grady said the pandemic had highlighted deficiencies in the way workplace deaths were reported, and added, “the current system is letting bosses off the hook”.

At present, employers are required by law to report deaths, injuries and illnesses that take place at work or are in connection with work through the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR) mechanism.

However, it is up to employers to decide whether a Covid-19 infection is the result of workplace exposure or transmission outside work and as is clear from the data, in most cases employers have decided on the latter and not reported the death.

The TUC said this has prevented the HSE from carrying out inspections and making sure employers take action to keep workers and the public safe.

Better enforcement needed

It also called on the government to provide more funding for the HSE, which the TUC said had had its funding cut by more than 50% in real terms over the past decade, leading to a sharp fall in workplace inspections.

“Ministers must fund enforcement bodies properly so they can recruit and train qualified workplace inspectors, inspect more workplaces, and prosecute companies who don’t keep their workers safe,” said O’Grady.

This view was echoed by Darren Hockley, Managing Director at training provider DeltaNet International: “The government needs to ensure companies understand the consequences of not following protocols and guidelines, by prosecuting those who continually fail to keep their employees safe.”

He added that the problem went beyond accurate reporting of deaths. “Not only does the report reveal that employers are not reporting the number of Covid-19 infections, but it also suggests that employers are not putting in place the right health and safety procedures to protect their workers.

“Organisations have a responsibility to protect their employees. Health and safety responsibility doesn’t stop at fire safety policies, with Covid-19, it’s ensuring employees work socially distanced, there is a one-way system in the workplace and there is easy access to ensure workstations are continuously sanitised for starters.”

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While it’s well-known that working from home has increased over the past year, it seems learning from home has also risen significantly.

According to the latest Learning and Skills at Work report from the CIPD and Accenture, seven in ten organisations reported an increase in the use of digital or online solutions over the last year.

However, organisations have largely been managing this increase without a corresponding rise in their learning and development budgets. Only 11% of the 1,200 professionals surveyed reported a rise in their budget over the last 12 months, while 58% reported their budget had remained the same.

About one third of organisations had had to contend with a reduction in budgets, with learning budgets cut most significantly in those industries that have been more impacted by the pandemic. In some cases, budget cuts had led to reductions in L&D headcounts and the use of external consultants.

“While many learning professionals have had to do more with less in the last year, it was also a time to challenge assumptions and embrace new ways of doing things. It’s clear there is no going back – the pandemic has likely changed for good the face of learning and skills development in organisations,” said Lizzie Crowley, senior adviser at the CIPD and author of the report.

Despite the funding constraints, the majority of businesses surveyed said the switch to a digital model had been positive. Some 77% of organisations said they were successfully using learning technology and 69% reported they were innovating in their use of learning technology.

One specific area of focus reported was the use of technology to help identify and deal with skills gaps in organisations.

Since the previous year, a greater number of respondents said they had assessed the impact of automation and how to redeploy employees affected (51%), as well as how roles are changing and how to reskill workers to meet these changes (64%).

The majority of organisations had become more confident about their ability to address skills gaps, with 72% of respondents saying they were able to effectively tackle skills gaps.

However, Ian Rawlings, Regional VP EMEA at software company SumTotal, said it was important employers took a tailored approach: “As Covid-19 accelerates changes to the world of work, it’s great to see that organisations are utilising this momentum to drive their reskilling efforts to future-proof their business and employees.

“It is important to remember, however, that skills development is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach, and adherence to a single learning style may restrict employee agility – negatively impacting on talent development. Not only will offering just one learning style limit creativity and flexibility, reducing employees’ capability of adapting to changing business needs, but it may lead to employees failing to realise their full potential.”

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UK workers have been sleeping better since they began working from home but the impending return to offices could put their newfound restfulness at risk.

According to a survey carried out for employee wellbeing specialist WRKIT, it was largely the fact they were able to skip the commute that had led to Brits spending more time in bed, with UK workers rating their sleep duration 8.6/10, on average.

The researchers polled 4,000 employees globally, 1,293 from the UK, to assess how the past year had impacted employees’ sleep, with UK workers seeming to have benefited more than those in other countries.

As well as reporting that they were getting more sleep, workers in the UK also reported a better quality of sleep since remote working became commonplace, with an average score of 6.5/10 in terms of feeling refreshed after sleep, significantly higher than the global average of 4.5/10.

Given that a previous study found that insufficient sleep was linked to lower productivity and could be costing the UK economy up to £37bn a year, Jason Brennan, director of leadership and wellbeing at WRKIT, said employers would be wise to think about how to maintain the improved sleep patterns of their staff.

“So many workers seeing marked improvements to their sleeping patterns has been an extremely positive legacy of the past 12 months that businesses would do well to pay attention to if they are to keep morale – and, crucially, the wellbeing of their staff – high over the coming months.

“Where possible, businesses should consider providing the option of permanent remote working, even for two or three days a week. This will enable employees to maintain good sleep hygiene, to the mutual benefit of employer and employee, and enable forward-thinking businesses to attract and retain the top talent in their industry.”

The research on sleep was part of the Global Working From Home Survey,  which also considered workers’ wellbeing in five other areas; work, life, food and mental and physical wellbeing.

One other area in which UK workers had benefited more than the worldwide average was in feeling more able to make time to focus on activities they enjoyed, with Brits scoring an average of 7.1/10 on this measure, compared with 5/10 globally.

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Businesses rushed to hire more staff as they prepared for the easing of lockdown measures that came into play this week.

Companies across the UK posted 181,000 new job adverts in the first week of May, following a post-pandemic record of 211,000 new job listings in the final week of April.

According to the REC’s Jobs Recovery Tracker, this meant there were a total of 1.53 million active job postings in the UK in the first week of this month.

Neil Carberry, Chief Executive of the REC, said: “The jobs data continues to give us good news for the recovery. Since governments across the UK announced plans for easing lockdowns, we’ve seen a robust and rising rate of new job ads being posted.

“As restrictions ease, those numbers have continued to rise. Business leaders are feeling more confident now than at any point during the past year.”

Unsurprisingly, job listings were dominated by sectors where activity has been heavily curtailed throughout the pandemic.

Teachers and other education professionals were the profession with the highest weekly increase in demand during the first week of May, with listings up 22.1%.

Hospitality boom

There was also strong growth in jobs for hospitality and leisure workers, with bar staff ads up 17.5%, waiting staff demand up 9.9% and hotel and accommodation manager listings rising by 10.3%.

The REC data was backed up by research by job search engine Adzuna, which said that hospitality and catering jobs had risen by 188% in the seven weeks to the first week of May.

It said the sector was seeing the fastest recovery by some distance, with logistics and warehouse, retail, legal and manufacturing roles making up the rest of the top five sectors for growth in job listings.

Andrew Hunter, Co-founder of Adzuna, said the rapid hiring in recent weeks had led to “hot competition” for staff, particularly as many hospitality and retail workers had left the industry over the past year.

He added: “There are also far fewer foreign workers seeking employment in the UK, with overseas interest in UK jobs more than halving from before the pandemic, hitting these industries hard. UK employers can no longer rely on overseas workers to plug employment gaps.”

The shortage of candidates in some of the sectors currently seeking staff was also noted by Matthew Mee, Director of Workforce Intelligence at Emsi, which works with the REC to produce the Jobs Recovery Tracker.

“With the workforce shrinking significantly over the last 12 months (a combination of Covid, furlough and Brexit), we’re hearing strong anecdotes from our recruitment clients of an increasingly tight labour market in a number of sectors – particularly those that aren’t currently listed on the Skilled Worker Occupation Shortage list.”

Recruiters ‘sought after’ partners

While this supply/demand imbalance may be bad news for companies in some sectors, it appears to be good news for the recruitment sector as firms look for help sourcing staff.

The latest Recruitment Trends Snapshot report from the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) reported “massive spikes” in year-on-year vacancies and placements in the professional recruitment sector.

It found that while permanent vacancies were down slightly in April when compared with the previous month, they were up 90% year on year, while contract roles rose by 83%. Permanent placements were up 82% on the same basis, while contract roles rose by 68%.

Ann Swain, Chief Executive of APSCo, said: “This data points very clearly to the ongoing value of the recruitment sector to the economy as organisations look for help to find the right skill sets.

“While the last year has been very tough on business and there has undoubtedly been redundancies, the annual increases in vacancies show that while there may be more candidates on the market, professional sectors still have niche skill shortages, and our profession will continue to be a sought after expert partner to help source those skills.”

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The pandemic has prompted many British workers to reassess their priorities, with almost half wanting a better work-life balance post lockdown.

Working overtime during the pandemic seemed to have been a key driver of the desire for a more balanced lifestyle sought by 45% of 1,000 respondents to a comparethemarket.com survey carried out in March.

On average, the study found that Brits had worked 2.9 hours more than their contracted hours during lockdown, adding up to 150 extra hours over the past year.

Those aged 25-34 had worked the most overtime at 187 hours, followed by 18-24 year olds and 35-44 year olds, both at 182 hours.

This unpaid work had the biggest impact on those aged 18 to 24, with 56.9% of respondents in that age group saying it had helped them realise they wanted to fulfil their career aspirations after the lockdown had ended.

This same demographic was also most likely (55%) to have put together their first ‘bucket list’ during lockdown, with plans to ‘start living life to the full’ (44%) post-lockdown.

Across all age groups, more than a third (36%) of Brits started planning their bucket list during lockdown, with more than half (57%) claiming their motivation for doing so was due to an attitude that ‘life is too short’.

Topping the activities on bucket lists drawn up over the past year was travelling and seeing more of the world, with 59% of respondents listing this.

Making more time for family and friends came in second (44%) while 41% wanted to learn a new skill such as a new language or a musical instrument.

Other bucket list items that scored highly included buying a new home (36%), doing an adrenaline-seeking activity (35%) and having more ‘me time’ (32%).

A third or those surveyed were hoping to achieve their goal within the next five to 10 years, while 26% hoped to do so in the next one to five years.

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