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Inflation threatens workplace progress made in pandemic

The UK's uncertain economic future is causing employers to scale back on important parts of workplace culture, reversing progress made during the coronavirus pandemic.

With the Bank of England expecting inflation to peak at 11% and energy bills skyrocketing, research form LinkedIn has shown business leaders are considering cutting down on flexible work (75%), skills development (76%), and employee wellbeing (83%) as the economic situation worsens.

Job listings advertising remote roles - which have become commonplace since the pandemic forced home-working - have decreased throughout 2022, suggesting a desire from businesses to get employees back into the office.

In January 2022, 16% of all job listings on LinkedIn were remote, compared to 12% in August 2022.

Companies utilising flexible working:

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Despite the supply of remote roles decreasing, the demand is still there from employees.

While 12% of jobs advertised on LinkedIn in the UK were remote, more than 20% of applications businesses received in September 2022 were for remote roles. 

Research from Flexa Careers in August 2022 found 84% of new vacancies posted to its site were for remote vacancies.

Anna Whitehouse, author and founder of flexible working campaign Flex Appeal, said businesses need to stop viewing flexible working as a problem.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: "We need to stop looking at flexible working as if it’s a relaxed way of working, one that is losing businesses money when it’s exactly the opposite.

"Employers who work flexibly are more productive and are making the company more money by working flexibly. Flexible working also enables more people to work - period - which is a huge driver to the economy.

"We know from our Flexonomics report that the economic contribution of flexible working is £38billion. If this was increased by 50% we would see it rise to £55 billion and 51,200 new jobs would be created. Just because companies are threatened, losing trust and the freedom that enables employees to work to their full potential won’t save them money, it will cost them a fortune in revenue and lost talent."

Maintaining employee morale has become a priority for businesses as 49% of businesses recognise employees are dealing with financial strains from the cost of living crisis, and 33% know their employees are worried about losing their jobs.

Vanessa Stock, chief people officer at presentation software vendor Pitch, said companies should work even harder to create a flexible culture for staff.

She told HR magazine: "Employees want flexibility and work-life balance because it’s human and people-first. Processes, procedures, and tools exist that mean the progress made during the pandemic are flexible enough to accommodate the full range of employees’ working styles, and, to put it simply, lives.

“Few businesses are exempt from the ongoing global economic headwinds. But it’s illogical for business leaders to determine that reducing flexibility will make them better prepared to deal with these pressures. Modern teams find meaning and passion at work from strong collaboration, strong products and strong results. Business leaders should invest time and energy in fostering flexible cultures that deliver results for staff and business alike.”

Anthony Klotz, professor of organisational behaviour at UCL School of Management, said businesses should embrace the opportunity to find new ways of working.

He said: "Leaders are caught between the allure of returning to old ways of working, and the challenge of looking toward the future and rethinking how they lead and how their employees work. As LinkedIn’s study indicates, some of those in positions of power are opting out of the opportunity that this moment presents.

"But it’s those that embrace the mantle of leadership and turn into reality the vision that so many workers can clearly see – a future in which employees’ relationships with their employers are a source of wellbeing – who will come out stronger. It is these visionary leaders who are positioning their companies and their employees to thrive in the long-term."