A year ago, the world as a whole and the world of work in particular looked very different to today. Countries were emerging bumpily from the pandemic with a degree of optimism. Employment levels had been maintained by government support in many countries. Economies had bounced back to pre-pandemic levels and pent-up demand was beginning to create skills shortages and supply chain issues.
2021 Report: Eight Drivers of Change – the future of work
Last year's 2021 Report, the Eight Drivers of Change – the future of work, looked at how the impact of the pandemic was converging with changes driven by technology, demographics, sustainability, globalisation, the role of the state, migration, and social trends to accelerate change in the workplace at an unprecedented speed and scale.
The pandemic resulted in many people re-assessing their priorities with a desire across society to “build back better”. Emerging from Covid restrictions, many looked forward to a more flexible world of work with a greater emphasis on wellbeing and work/life balance. Undoubtedly, the biggest transformation in the world of work from the pandemic in countries such as the US, the UK and other Western European nations was the shift to hybrid and remote working for those workers able to do so.
New Report: Eight Drivers of Change – 2022 and beyond
The landscape of the world of work has altered significantly since then. This new Report reflects on the extent to which major events in the world, alongside evolving societal attitudes, advancing technologies and a shifting political landscape, have impacted on the key observations and themes identified in the 2021 Report. Importantly, this Report also looks forward, to consider how the world of work will evolve in the years ahead.
As the working landscape continues to shift rapidly in response to world events, this comprehensive new Report provides a timely and important assessment of the key issues and challenges of the day that will impact on the world of work for years to come.
Reflections on the changing landscape of work
The relative optimism of a year ago as countries emerged from the pandemic evaporated with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. The invasion triggered rapid rises in oil and gas prices, as well as other commodities, alongside detrimental impacts on already fragile global supply chains. The conflict has led to levels of inflation not seen in many countries for 40 years and, in the UK and many other countries, a cost of living crisis.
Politics continue to have a profound influence on the world of work, with diverging political trends across the globe. In the UK, Liz Truss replaced Boris Johnson as Prime Minister with a small state agenda that foreshadowed greater de-regulation and a lower tax environment. This experiment was short-lived, and the financial markets and the public quickly passed judgement on this approach. Rishi Sunak replaced Liz Truss after merely 44 days. It is already clear that his new government's approach will be quite different from his predecessors'. A General Election in two years’ time, or possibly even earlier, is likely to lead to a political transformation in the UK. A Labour government promising quite radical changes to the regulation of work looks increasingly likely.
Political change is driven, at least in part, by demographic changes and shifts in social values. Political divisions in the UK are increasingly apparent along the fault line of age. This appears also to be the case in the US given the voting patterns at the November mid-term elections. Political divides are increasingly cultural and social rather than economic with younger voters much more likely to support liberal, progressive, internationalist parties. In the longer term, this shift will lead to higher taxes, more employment regulation and, in the UK, closer links with Europe.
As societal trends evolve, workers (particularly younger workers) are seeking more flexibility, autonomy, belonging and purpose from their work. The values and priorities of younger generations will influence more and more the world of work and employers will need to work ever harder to attract and retain good people.
Skill shortages are likely to persist even with rising unemployment, driven in part by skilled workers voluntarily leaving the labour market; increased numbers of the long-term sick; fewer entering the job market on account of lower fertility rates over the last twenty years and greater numbers in tertiary education; people not having the right skills for a changing world; alongside the ending of free movement from the EU. With technology continuing to advance at speed, driving automation and innovation at an unprecedented rate, a fundamental question remains unanswered. Will the years to come herald a world with too few jobs, or with too few workers equipped with the necessary skills to navigate the future world of work?
In the longer-term, the growing realisation of the global impact of climate change promises to drive the most significant change in the world of work. Over the last year, a succession of record temperatures and other extreme climate events have signalled an increasingly urgent need to act, requiring businesses to rethink where work is undertaken, what jobs are created and how work is done. Alongside greater regulation on employers in the future, organisational decision-making will increasingly have regard to its environmental impact. This will affect the world of work in terms of what is produced where; supply chains; energy usage and travel policies.
Change is inevitable. Employers, legislators, and policymakers can successfully manage this change if they understand, prepare, and adapt for the new world of work. At this critical juncture in the evolving world of work, this new Report brings together leading knowledge, data and insights from a variety of sources to offer guidance and support for those taking steps now to prepare for the future world of work.
"Change before you have to ”
Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric