• Insights

8 Drivers of Change – Social Trends

United Kingdom
Written by
Lewis Silkin, widely recognised as the UK’s leading specialist employment law practice.
Shifting values continue to drive change in the world of work, but also generate opportunities for conflict and division. Successfully navigating these emerging challenges is essential to organisations in attracting and retaining the best people, as well as protecting their brand value.

Values, behaviours and what employees want from a job

The divisions between those with progressive, international and liberal values and those with traditional, nationalistic and authoritarian attitudes are increasingly apparent in society. These values are significantly influenced by age, education and geography.

In the workplace, the priorities of the younger generations promise to influence profoundly the world of work in the coming years. What employees value when choosing where to work differs from priorities in past decades, particularly for younger workers. Deloitte’s 2022 annual survey of Gen Z and Millennials found that work-life balance, learning and development opportunities, and pay and benefits were the three most important reasons why they had chosen to work for their current employer.

Several studies have shown that a person’s values and priorities change as they get older and gain more life experience. For many, family becomes a priority as they get older and, while this is likely to diminish the importance that they place on socialisation and, possibly, purpose, autonomy, flexibility and work-life balance will remain important. Core values focused on sustainability, diversity and social change are less likely to alter greatly as people get older, even if their priorities evolve. These core values promise to generate significant change for society and for employers in the years ahead.

To some extent, however, the priorities of younger generations are consistent with the priorities of workers across all age groups. A report by the Resolution Foundation across workers of all ages concluded that three highly-prized aspects of a job were: flexibility/work-life balance; variety/autonomy; and purpose/meaning.

A McKinsey report highlighted that what employees across all ages value and what employers think employees value are not always the same. For employees (in frontline customer-facing roles in the US), the three most important aspects of the job were: job growth; pay; and learning opportunities. When employers were asked what employees valued, these three aspects were ranked 2 to 4, with “supportive manager” ranked first (this was fifth with employees). Of all the aspects of the job listed, the outlier was “higher job title” – employers believed employees valued this highly, but employees gave little weight to it in practice.

A Benefex report summarises the current environment as follows: “employees are demanding more relevant and flexible benefits that can enhance their wellbeing; greater choice in how and when they work; access to intuitive technology and systems that help rather than hinder them in their work; and they want to feel recognised, valued and connected within a purpose-driven and inclusive culture”.

Reflecting these values will be important for employers to attract and retain the best people. Marcus Buckingham,Head of People and Performance Research at the ADP Research Institute, argues that one approach is to redesign jobs so people can love the work that they do.

The phenomenon of “quiet quitters” (employees who do the bare minimum to get by at work) reflects a rise in employee disengagement. A recent Gallup report found that half the US workforce were “quiet quitters” and that 32% of workers were actively engaged at work whereas 18% were actively disengaged (“loud quitters”). Worker engagement has been declining over the last few years, particularly amongst younger workers. This represents a real threat to employers but also an opportunity for much improved business performance if effective employee engagement can be achieved.

Work-life balance

Deloitte’s 2022 annual survey of Gen Z and Millennials and the Resolution Foundation study highlight the growing importance to employees of a work-life balance, suggesting that workers could work fewer average hours in the future.

Growing interest in the four-day week over the past 12 months reflects the increased understanding of the benefits of greater work-life balance. June 2022 saw the beginning of a well-publicised trial by more than 70 UK employers employing 3,300 people of a four-day week with no reduction in pay. South Cambridgeshire District Council has announced a trial four-day, 30-hour week for its staff on full pay to tackle staffing shortages and evolving worker priorities.

The deadline for implementation of the EU Work Life Balance for Parent and Carers Directive across the EU passed in August 2022, further emphasising the increasing focus on work-life balance.

Social media

As workforces become more geographically fragmented employers increasingly rely on social media as a communication tool. It is also being used more regularly by workers to communicate with one another in work as well as outside work. For employers, controlling the social media content of their employees’ communications remains an important and challenging issue. In some instances, negotiated resolutions to employment disputes focus as much on what the employer and employee can say about each other as any financial terms of settlement.

Consumer trends

With the removal of lockdown restrictions over the past 12 months, traditional consumer behaviours have revived, at least for the moment. Increased consumer demand, whether in traditional stores, at restaurants or for flights and holidays arose, at least in part, due to pent-up demand from the pandemic. This created jobs and is, to some extent, responsible for some of the delays and shortages apparent over the last year, as businesses failed to recruit staff quickly enough to replace those who left during the previous two years.

However, the gradual growth in online retail activity will undoubtedly be a continuing overarching trend. PwC’s August 2022 update highlighted that while store closures had slowed down, financial woes continue to be experienced in other sectors (such as cinemas), reflecting continuing changes in consumer behaviour. Although predictions that the rapid home delivery of day to day grocery and household needs would be the next revolution in consumer buying behaviour, the past year has seen many businesses entering this field struggle. France, for example, is taking steps to protect the high street by clamping down on the “dark stores” used by these delivery businesses. It is likely that home delivery represents the future but it may take longer than many entrants into this market had expected for a large scale transformation in consumer buying habits. There is potential too that the cost of living crisis will see cost outweighing convenience for many in the immediate future.

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James Davies
Partner - United Kingdom
Lewis Silkin