How The Great Resignation has created a seismic power shift in employment
Over the last 18 months, employees have been leaving their jobs at historic rates – an economic trend which has been coined ‘The Great Resignation’. This movement has created a significant shift in the power dynamics in the workplace which has left employers scrambling to retain and attract talent. Our Stakeholder Intelligence Index: Employment report uncovers some of the emerging trends in employee sentiment.
Tracking sentiment changes since before the pandemic
Our analysis begins before the pandemic hit, in 2019, and we have been able to track changes in employee sentiment every year since 2019. A lot has changed since we began our analysis. The pandemic and the rise in flexible working arrangements has shifted our expectations of both employees and employers.
More importantly, there has been a complete overhaul of the jobs market in which employees hold all the power. Employee confidence is at an all-time high with 7 in 10 employees feeling confident about moving to a new job in the next few months. They have every reason to be confident, with job openings hitting a new record of 1.29 million.
Our aim was to identify top drivers of sentiment amongst employees and employers, quantifying what talent really cares about in the companies they are – and could be – working for. alva analysed sentiment activity in six key employment areas in the UK and US: telecoms, retail, utilities, professional services, banking and defence.
The three-year tracking data has been analysed using alva’s own stakeholder sentiment methodology, including millions of media content pieces across traditional and social media, NGO reports and regulatory data. The dataset is analysed using alva’s NLP sentiment scoring, and scores are ranked between -100 and 100.
Employee power shift
The most common experience amongst all sectors and businesses is that the power dynamic has shifted to employees, with employers doing everything they can to retain and attract top talent.
The pandemic saw an increase in flexibility through remote working and a greater focus on mental health and employee wellbeing. However, with lockdowns easing and offices reopening, many employees were reluctant to change their ways of working and in fact expected flexible working arrangements. Some employers accommodated this flexibility and adopted virtual and hybrid workplaces, whereas other employers such as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan decided to introduce strict return to the office policies.
These companies have faced mass resignations and demands for better working conditions. Both Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan have subsequently introduced initiatives such as unlimited holidays for senior staff, free breakfasts, and other employee perks to retain staff. Indeed, many companies have been forced to tone down their tough rhetoric on remote work and have granted employees more flexibility to work from home.
Threats of industrial action
While the recent shifts have generally been viewed as positive as they have resulted in employers providing a better workplace environment for their staff, the threat of industrial action can have a disruptive impact on employers. The discussion of industrial action has increased in the UK in 2022 as workers demand more favourable conditions.
Airbus experienced widespread negativity when its employees threatened to strike over pay disputes, resulting in a -7 sentiment score. The strike was eventually called off after Airbus improved its pay offer. Rail, airport staff, and lorry drivers have all threatened to take similar action.
Employers must manage these issues carefully and should increasingly expect a more robust formal and informal union presence moving forward, as workers energised by the wider improvements in employee wellbeing, and the current action of their peers, make their voices heard.
Employee activism and unity
Another complex issue that companies must deal with is unionisation, with many experts calling 2022 the year of the ‘union boom’.
The Amazon Labor Union (ALU) made history earlier this year when it became the first-ever union to successfully organise Amazon employees. During Black Friday in November 2021, Amazon workers throughout the UK, US, and Europe staged protests demanding that Amazon change its business, including improved pay, an end to employee surveillance, and union engagement. This display of coordinated activism between international unions resulted in a more unified voice among workers.
Amazon has attempted to fight off unionising efforts, which it sees as an obstacle to business flexibility and warehouse efficiency. Officials responded by going on record say that Amazon offers competitive pay and benefits and believes it is better to work directly with workers. Despite its efforts, Amazon will have to work with unions and should expect more unionisation in the future, as employee votes on whether to unionise have been scheduled in other states.
The pandemic and The Great Resignation have created a powerful dynamic shift between employers and employees. While this dynamic shift has generally been positive and has forced employers to improve their offer to current and new employees, there is also a disruptive element to this new force.
The rise in unionisation and the threats of industrial action over working conditions can result in a significant amount of disruption for companies and these issues must be managed carefully.
It is unclear what the future of work will look like in the years to come, but what we can say is that employees have shifted their expectations, and the employers that accommodate those wishes will add resilience and robustness to their businesses.
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