EIGHT PREDICTIONS

Looking at the “known unknowns”, there are numerous uncertainties ahead which remain difficult to predict. Nonetheless, in this section, James Davies sets out eight predictions for changes over the forthcoming years that will vitally influence the world of work.

In the years ahead most people will work fewer hours than today. An ageing workforce and people living longer healthy lives coupled with low fertility rates, reduced migration and skills shortages means that many more of us will work into our seventies.

Whilst there will be initial enthusiasm to spend time in the office, for those who can work from home the amount of time spent in the office will reduce and the office will be repurposed to facilitate collaborations and a sense of belonging.

Sustainability and the impact of work on the environment will come even more to the fore. Workers will be given rights to be consulted on the environmental impact of the business and possibly even a legal right to control their impact.

Amongst the changes to the way work is regulated, employment status will be simplified, recognising the importance of both flexibility, the need to both tax fairly and confer appropriate legal rights on all workers.

Predictions - Demographics, sustainability and social trends

Working less

Working less

Before Covid-19, the trend was for average working hours to decrease (see social trends – work/life balance). During the pandemic, hours increased for a variety of reasons (see emerging themes – flexibility). As a result of evolving values, growing awareness of the health implications of a long-hours culture and increased flexibility, the pre-pandemic trend will revive and average working hours will continue to decline. Many more people will look to work only part of the week and during hours that fit with their family or other commitments. 

Working into the 70s

Working into the 70s

With people living longer, healthy lives (see  demographics – ageing population), increased demands on the state pension scheme and likely skill shortages (see emerging themes– labour market), more people will continue to work beyond 70. Numbers working over 65 have more than doubled over the last 20 years (see emerging themes - flexibility) and this trend will continue. Age discrimination laws will also play a role in driving change, having, for example, outlawed unjustified retirement ages in the UK in 2011. In the US, which has had federal age laws for over half a century, nearly 15% (and growing) of over-70s are in work. In the UK, 8.1% of over-70s were in work in 2019 - an increase from 4.5% a decade earlier.

Repurposing the office

Repurposing the office

Working from home is here to stay as employers and employees adapt to the benefits of such arrangements. For those able to work from home, there will be a temporary return to the office for many who have missed personal and professional connections, before a reversion over time to working mainly from home. (see Covid-19 – agile working; social trends – work/life balance; emerging themes – flexibility; and socialisation and belonging). There will be a repurposing of the office with an emphasis on time spent there being directed at purposeful activities that cannot be done as effectively at home, such as collaboration and reinforcing a sense of belonging. Homeworking nonetheless remains impractical for many people. Only 36% of the UK working population worked wholly or partly from home in 2020.

Right to control impact

Right to control impact

With climate concerns so high among people’s priorities, many businesses have responded by reporting on their environmental impact. Reporting, training and consultation obligations will undoubtedly grow (see sustainability – climate emergency). New laws in France oblige employers to inform and consult with their Social and Economic Committees on the environmental implications of business decisions affecting the workforce. Before long in the UK, employees will have legal rights to be consulted on, and even control, the environmental impact of their work. This may become a fundamental employment right alongside rights to privacy, family life and protection against discrimination.

Predictions - Globalisation and the Role of the State

Employment status

Employment status

In the UK and in many other countries, varied working arrangements have given rise to a plethora of different legal statuses governing the relationship between individuals and their “employer”. Various factors can determine if the individual is an employee, self-employed or has some other status. These include: the right of substitution; the obligation to provide or accept work; the use of intermediary companies; and who provides equipment and pays expenses. Self-employment as a proportion of employment has risen from 13% to 16% over the last 15 years. In many cases, the straight-jacket of employment provides insufficient flexibility while in others the relationship is set up to avoid tax or NICs or deny employment rights. Employment status categories will be simplified to fit the modern world of work (see role of the state tax; and worker rights)

UK re-joins Single Market

UK re-joins Single Market

Within a generation, the UK will re-join the EU Single Market with a say over its decisions. It will not, however, re-join the EU – Brexit will not be reversed – and perhaps not the Customs Union, so the UK’s status would mirror that of Norway today. The euro-zone countries will press ahead with closer political and fiscal integration, leaving countries such as Poland and Hungary (where tensions are rising with the EU) outside that inner circle but remaining part of the Single Market. Attitudes to Brexit in the UK are already shifting and the obstacles to trade and impact on the British economy are becoming increasingly apparent. (see globalisation - Brexit) The Northern Ireland issue and avoiding border checks with the rest of the UK is insoluble, potentially threatening any trade agreement with the US.

Move left in politics

Move left in politics

There is good reason to predict a leftward shift in British politics in the years ahead as values evolve, with Gen Z replacing baby boomers and the previous so-called silent generation amongst the voting public. A move left will signal greater state intervention and support; increased taxes, particularly on the better-off (the question will be whether additional taxes are levied through higher income taxes/NI contributions, increased capital gains tax rates, a wealth tax and/or other means); and higher public spending (to meet the demands of tackling health and social care and the climate emergency). The UK has started on this path with a new health and social care levy but will have to go further. This move to the left will extend employment rights for workers and see an increased role for social partnerships (see role of the state – worker rights and tax; and emerging themes – regulation and enforcement).

Supply chain scrutiny

Supply chain scrutiny

Organisations will subject their supply chains to much greater scrutiny and control, particularly as regards the environmental impact of their value chain and the environmental, social and governance standards of the businesses within it. This will be driven both by increased regulation and stakeholder expectations. Increased costs of shipping and higher relative labour costs in developing economies, alongside enhanced attention to supply chain resilience in times of uncertainty and change, will also see historic manufacturing relationships re-evaluated and manufacturing returning closer to the ultimate product destination (see sustainability; globalisation; and emerging themes – resilience).

Part 1 

DRIVERS OF CHANGE

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Part 2 

EMERGING THEMES

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Part 3 

PREDICTIONS

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