How hybrid working can rebalance workforce demographics
Sometimes unpredictable events provide the final push towards change that is long overdue. For example, for many years, it has been evident that access to employment opportunities will improve if flexible and hybrid working becomes a regular, widespread practice. So, when homeworking became a matter of law in many jurisdictions during the pandemic, businesses got the results of a long-overdue experiment, and the verdict was overwhelmingly positive.
Still, old habits die hard, and there is concern that some business leaders will force a wholesale return to the office. With so many people locked out of employment by an increasingly archaic 9-5 plus commute that works against their mental and physical health, this is turning into a pivotal moment for the future of economies across the globe. To cope with our changing demographics and enable higher employment levels, we need to support disconnected groups and welcome them back into the workforce on their terms. In addition, public services such as social care and health infrastructure in almost every country need much higher levels of investment. Rolling back the gains of the last 18 months, making work unviable again for so many, could be nothing short of disastrous.
Valuing experience and achievement
The demands of a full working day plus a commute have always placed a strain on older workers, keeping their numbers within the economically active population comparatively low. As a result, the dominant work-hard/play-hard culture of the last few decades is a competition designed to help the young, robust, and commitment-free succeed. New hybrid work practices represent an ideal opportunity to rebalance workforce demographics.
There is an urgent need for every global market to reassess the employment offerings for older workers. For example, research from the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis recently found more than 3 million excess retirements in the US from the start of the pandemic through to Q2 2021. These early retirements represent a catastrophic loss of experience and knowledge.
The Institute for Employment Studies has estimated that 310,000 fewer older workers are active than expected in the UK. Also, in the UK, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s 2018 Older People and Employment publication warned that by 2030, 50% of the population would be over 50. Combine this with less inward migration due to Brexit, and without some prompt action, the outlook for a prosperous economy is bleak. Two years before the pandemic, this report identified that hybrid working would be the much-needed catalyst to enable an aging workforce to flourish, along with skills development support and an end to age bias and discrimination in recruitment.
Increased work participation for the over 55s
It’s easy to forget that the last two decades have seen increased work participation amongst the over 55s compared to the decades prior to the millennium. However, the increased cost of living, diminished pension pots, the financial crash, and rising statutory retirement ages have kept some older workers from retiring. Still, for many more, the previous work model was simply impossible to navigate at this stage in their lives. This twenty-year-long anomaly between 2000 and 2020 does make the recent decrease in opportunities for older workers appear more pronounced. However, economic participation in the over 55 age group has historically failed to keep pace with increased life expectancy during the last century.
Hybrid working finally brings our focus back to measuring achievement, experience, and reliability – something that older workers can offer in abundance. Now is the time to build a sustainable work culture for more senior employees that will keep their participation steady in the face of economic fluctuations or the restrictions of a global pandemic.
It’s fair to say that when women first entered the workplace in significant numbers around five decades ago, little was done to improve the aspects of work that typically left them disadvantaged compared to their male counterparts. Although there is still work to be done at home to make responsibilities equal, hybrid and flexible working goes a long way to removing some of the barriers women have experienced as they try to bring their careers onto an equal footing.
Many of the larger global economies are well underway with their interpretations of the reimagined workplace. A hybrid workplace is a key policy underpinning the newly gender-balanced workforce of the future. Our solutions for Public Employment Services can support strategists as they convince business and civil service leaders to embrace an inclusive future.
Global trends for a rebalanced workforce
Canada has been at the forefront of technology take-up amongst its citizens since the internet was in its infancy in the mid-1990s. Now the administration is focusing efforts on ensuring that its business technology infrastructure is similarly world-leading, so that no one is prevented from economic participation. In addition, the Canadian civil service has been leading the country by example with some quick interventions, namely doubling the number of secure network connections and tripling their teleconferencing capacity over just three months.
In the UK, the issue of hybrid working has become somewhat politicized. Following the easing of COVID restrictions earlier this year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged government workers to return to their offices as soon as possible. However, government departments and private sector employers have retained autonomy in decision making and recognized that most workers want to work from home at least part-time. Most employers in the UK have accepted that the future lies in a hybrid workplace and have started to adjust their business operations and policies to reflect this. A flexible approach better supports one of the government’s core manifesto pledges – to ‘level up’. This approach means ending the disparity in opportunity and living standards between London and the Southeast and the other regions of the UK.
By way of contrast, early in his tenure at the White House, President Joe Biden has actively supported the retention of many lockdown working structures. He’s sending a clear mandate to federal government agencies to use all the available advancements in technology and work patterns to compete for top talent in the US labor market. However, the White House has already noted that there may be some managerial resistance. To succeed, a significant cultural shift and explicit guidelines will ensure that eligibility for hybrid working is assessed on job function feasibility rather than line manager preference.
New political opportunities
Political challenger parties in some countries are attempting to win the support of their electorate by setting out plans that support diversification in workforce demographics. For example, in Malta, the Nationalist Party has made flexible working a cornerstone of their manifesto. If elected, they will support an individual’s right to a healthy work-life balance. Still, they will also safeguard employers by instilling a caveat that productivity targets must be met, and offer tax rebates for investment in the necessary infrastructure. An approach such as this is clearly in its fledgling stage until its proponents are in power. However, data that can influence the voting public and encourage business leaders to move towards a hybrid working future could prove a hugely successful example for the rest of the world.
Improving workforce balance
If we seize this historic opportunity, the entire composition of workforces could alter dramatically for the better, becoming truly diverse and reopening the door to employment for many disenfranchised groups. Individual countries addressing the wishes and wellbeing of their populations is undoubtedly a positive trend. However, we also look forward to a global movement to diversify the working population so that different jurisdictions can share successes and solutions. While our landscapes, industries, and cultures may have unique characteristics, the desire for happier, healthier, and more productive lives is something that unites us all.
WCC Group solutions
WCC works with governments globally to deliver data-driven employment solutions. You can find out more about the support we offer at: https://www.wcc-group.com/employment/