Adapting to the changing face of work


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The world of work is transforming at a rapid pace, with the next generation of employees demanding a wholly different set of policies, procedures and relationships to those that went before. Millennials are embracing not only agile working but zero-hour contracts and other atypical working arrangements. The expectation of a job for life is now but a distant memory, replaced by new demands of employers much more likely to be focused around culture, ethics and responsibilities.

The Employment and Pensions team has developed a new Future of Work blueprint to support clients. This includes a multigenerational workforce and issues ranging from the shift in real estate investment towards more co-working and flexible workspaces to challenges associated with employment status for casual workers in the gig economy.

Emma Burrows, head of the Employment and Pensions team, says: “With the rising number of employment tribunals (doubling last year) and a focus of many on #metoo allegations, some of the biggest risks we see our clients facing at the moment are discrimination risks. People are much more likely to come forward with these types of complaints now and demand action. Claims of whistle-blowing and discrimination by one employee against another are increasing, and those can be high-value and demand a huge amount of management time to reach a satisfactory resolution.”

In the new climate, there is a growing onus on employers to be proactive and look after the well-being of staff, and that includes physical, mental and financial well-being. Starting with physical well-being, employers need to make sure procedures and practices are understood to ensure employees take regular breaks, have time to visit the doctors when they are unwell and work in a healthy environment, which emcompasses the state of the buildings. Such measures can lead not only to happier employees but also to reduced absence as a result of sick leave.

“When it comes to mental well-being,” says Burrows, “we increasingly see companies putting in place mental health first-aiders, and giving people training on understanding mental health, to provide support in instances of stress at work”.

Rebecca McKay, a pensions partner says: “There is a lot that employers can do to support employees with their financial well-being. Financial stress causes a huge cost to UK plc as a result of lost work-time and it really is something that employers should take seriously.

"Today’s employees are less interested in perks like table tennis tables and much more focused on the support that employers can offer in demystifying pensions or offering savings tools”

She adds, “Historically, employers have tended to steer away from some of these products for fear of falling foul of legislation and being perceived to be giving financial advice. But that is, in fact, a very manageable risk and there is lots that they can do, which really supports employee recruitment, retention and well-being.”

In addition to well-being, the changing face of the labour market is placing new demands on employers from a legal and compliance perspective. Employment contracts change much more today than they ever used to and must now take account of much broader definitions of employment status. They must also adapt to agile working by changing performance targets to be based more on outputs and deliverables rather than inputs, or hours spent behind the desk.

"Flexible working creates a lot of new challenges for employers that people are only beginning to understand.”

First are the risks associated with people working at home, when employers have a responsibility to set them up to be working from home. Some people fudge that, but it does create legal risks. Secondly, you have got to make sure you can manage the work that is done in an agile space, which is a new challenge to many employers. That can be very difficult and can create real issues of trust within the workforce.” says Burrows.

She adds: “Lastly, it’s very difficult to overestimate the lack of control that you have as a result of people not being in the office when it comes to your data, intellectual property and so on. You have to really focus on data security and protecting corporate wealth, because it is frankly a lot easier for people to behave irresponsibly with confidential information when they are not working alongside a colleague.”

One solution is to invest heavily in tools that facilitate people working together, organising regular check-ins and focusing on building the team ethos by new means in the absence of workplace camaraderie.

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