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How Has The Pandemic Affected Employment Trends, Habits, and Expectations?

How Has The Pandemic Affected Employment Trends, Habits, and Expectations?
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Marketing Consultant - babelmonkey

The pandemic radically altered the way the world went to work. How much of a lasting impact has that had and in what way has it impacted the workforce, their working hours, and how they're paid?

CEOs, Managing Directors, those in positions of senior responsibility will have long been familiar with the reality of always being contactable, by telephone, by email, by text message. In such positions, it is to be expected and those holding those positions are financially rewarded for it.

Advances in technology have seen many employees lower down the hierarchy facing increased levels of accessibility and with it, an expectation of accessibility. Mid-level and Line Managers now frequently have their work email on their phone and will regularly check their messages in the evening, over the weekend and even whilst on annual leave. The trend has been growing steadily over the past couple of decades and with it, a rise in the culture of being seen to be always available. The pandemic has accentuated the trend as lines between ‘work’ and ‘home’ have become increasingly blurred. The UK already has the longest working hours in Europe and the expectation of working even beyond those hours has become par for the course for those employees eager to show their ambition.

With this, requests to work flexibly and from home have previously largely been met with resistance from businesses that perhaps have not had a plan for how to manage remote workers. Those who have been granted the right to work from home have often seen themselves sidelined for promotional opportunities and, often, jobs advertised as ‘working from home’ have commanded significantly lower salaries than those based in an office. Of course, one argument for this could be the lack of requirement for travel, however, in many cases, the difference in pay for the job-based at home and the job-based in the office has exceeded the cost of travel.

So, what effect has the pandemic, lockdown, and subsequent requirement to work from home had on these trends? The Office for National Statistics conducted an analysis to look at the recent trends in working hours, rewards, and productivity. Here are some of their key findings:

  • In 2020, homeworking staff did six hours of unpaid overtime each week
  • Employees who did not work from home averaged 3.6 hours each week unpaid overtime
  • Those who did not work from home were more likely to undertake paid overtime, also steady at 3.6 hours per week
  • The number of hours worked per week fell from 32.3 hours to 27.7 hours
  • In April 2020, homeworkers were keeping hours similar to traditional office hours, however, by September, homeworkers were starting later and working later

The question then, is how does the average worker determine when they can disconnect from work? Are we encouraging a society where a large percentage of the population is working from home and yet feels obliged to either switch on earlier and off later, or not fully switch off at all?

“There was some speculation “The Right To Disconnect” would become part of a new Parliamentary Bill however, its omission from the Queen’s Opening of Parliament Speech has put paid to that idea. As a result of lockdown, many businesses have seen it is possible for their operations to continue successfully whilst being run through a remote workforce, and that workforce can be trusted to work conscientiously from home. We take the view employers are more likely to engender goodwill and increased loyalty from employees who are trusted and valued. I’d encourage employers to cultivate a healthy working environment where employees are expected to disconnect to ensure their continued well-being.” – Jason Perry, Managing Director, ASL Recruitment

Pay also changed during 2020. Those who worked from home were paid on average 6.8% less than those who never worked from home. During 2020, this pattern reversed with homeworking staff paid 9.2% on average more. Previous studies by the ONS have shown employees in higher-paying jobs are more likely to be able to work from home.

Unsurprisingly, the ONS analysis found regional differences in the uptake of home working, the result of a combination of factors such as broadband speeds, and types of industries dominating each region. London and surrounding areas were shown to have the highest rates of home working in 2020 but these areas also have a proliferation of professional service industries that more easily lend themselves to homeworking. Conversely, many areas in Scotland and the North had the lowest uptake, with the very lowest homeworking rates being found in Thurrock, Birmingham, Lincolnshire, Blackpool, South Ayrshire, and parts of Northern Ireland.

On a final note, given the ONS analysis was conducted on the back of a pandemic, a quick look at the key points regarding sickness show some interesting yet not unexpected results:  

  • Sickness rates fell for homeworking staff. In 2020, the absence rate for workers who work from home was only 0.9%, equivalent to 2.0 lost days per worker. Those who had never worked from home had a higher sickness absence of 2.2 % or 4.3 lost days per worker.
  • In 2020, sickness rates were higher for women (2.1%) compared with men (1.4%). However, sickness rates for women who occasionally worked from home had a sickness absence rate of 3.9%, 2 per cent higher than the equivalent for men.

These figures seem to have some obvious basis: homeworkers presumably had lower exposure to germs and therefore were less likely to become ill. Also, those who were ill may have felt too unwell to travel to work but not too unwell to perform their duties. Having been set up to work from home, this would have been possible. The final statistic is interesting: could this be caused by there being more women in caring professions and therefore more likely to be exposed to the virus? Or would it indicate women who were still required to work at their place of work either were more likely than men to become ill as a result? Or could it be an indication of women having to claim illness to cover family requirements arising from school closures?

“The pandemic has taught us some fundamental lessons: First, employee wellbeing needs careful managing when a workforce is working remotely; second, working from home doesn’t necessarily mean a downturn in productivity but it does require some flexibility around the hours people are expected to work; and thirdly, company culture is more important than ever when the team is scattered to ensure unhealthy practices don’t creep in. It can make or break a business.” – Jason Perry.

If you would like access to the ASL Weekly Employer’s HR Conference Call happens on Wednesdays at 11 am for one hour. Business owners and HR Managers get together to discuss the topics of the day, share their experiences and their knowledge, present their challenges and their solutions. If you would like to come along, email  [email protected]   for your invitation.

ASL Recruitment was established in 1999 and has been serving Hastings and the surrounding area ever since placing temporary and permanent roles across a variety of sectors including Industrial and Manufacturing, Legal, Finance, Marketing, Technology and Office Support, from junior up to board level. Our co-founder and Managing Director, Jason Perry is an HR specialist and a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. For further information on our recruitment or consultancy services, email  [email protected]   or call us on 01424 452999.


The ONS analysis can be found in full  here .