Trends in the workplace

16 Feb 2023
Marina Vincent


Significant world and national events – the pandemic, the fall-out from Brexit, the war in Ukraine, 3 prime ministers in 7 weeks, “Trussonomics” etc. – have already had an effect on our economy and society.

We have seen the increase in remote/hybrid working, and the knock-on effect this has had on our city centres and the retail and hospitality sectors. There has been more of a focus on work life balance than before, and individuals have different expectations of what they want from work. We have the lowest level of unemployment since the 1970’s but a shortage of both skilled and unskilled workers means difficulties for national organisations, such as the NHS and train companies, as well as many smaller businesses. Then there is the current industrial unrest across various sectors.

Hopefully some of these issues will be resolved in the short term, but central Government needs to take a longer-term view of work and the workplace. Matt Warman MP was requested to undertake a review of the future of work and the labour market. Mr Warman’s response to this request was published on 1 September 2022 and identified four key areas to consider in policy going forward:-

  • Artificial Intelligence and automation
  • Skills
  • Place and flexibility
  • Worker’s rights

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), a non-departmental public body to advise the Government on skills and employment policy, also produced a report before it was disbanded in 2017. “The Future of Work – Jobs and Skills in 2030”, published in 2014, identified very similar areas to be considered.

Taking the headings from Matt Warman’s response, we can consider anticipated future trends.

Artificial Intelligence and automation

The use of both these tools is increasing as the technologies develop but, as with many things, the use of these tools can be a double-edged sword. Automation is used to improve efficiency and speed up production, but this commonly results in a reduction in the size of the workforce and the need for more skilled/semi-skilled workers and fewer un-skilled workers. Policy makers need to address their minds now as to how to deal with higher levels of unemployment and the social and economic consequences of that.

The use of AI is likely to hit the skilled and professional sectors resulting in fewer jobs and more competition. If there is more competition for jobs throughout the work spectrum, employees will need to up-skill in order to find work. There is also likely to be higher unemployment at these levels, to an extent not previously experienced.


To enable employees to up-skill, there will need to be more cooperation between central Government, Local Authorities, training providers and employers to ensure that the right training and education can be provided to fit the needs of the changing workplace. UKCES contemplated the prospect of individuals needing to take responsibility for sourcing much of their own training in order to compete for jobs. Clearly, there will have to be available and affordable training options if that is the case, or there will have to be public funding for training to get people into work. Employers are likely to have to provide more in house training for their particular needs, but this training may be employer specific and not transferable.

Place and Flexibility

Where do we work and how do we work? We are already facing these questions with many employees asking to work from home for at least a part of their working week, and in some cases this flexibility being a high priority when they apply for jobs. In January 2023 the Director General of the CBI said that most bosses “secretly” wanted all their staff to return to working in the office, so there appears to be tension here.

The Home Office Life “Working from Home UK statistics 2023” draws statistics from a variety of sources and the figures in this paragraph come from that report. It states that in 2019 4.7% people reported working mainly at home. In April 2020 43.1% reported that they worked exclusively from home. Since then, many employers have accepted hybrid working with employees’ time split between office and home. In April/May 2022 14% of workers worked exclusively from home and 24% worked on a hybrid basis. Not unexpectedly, 38% of higher earners (£40,000 pa plus) were hybrid workers, whereas only 8% of lower earners (£15,000 pa or less) were. Whether working from home results in a growth or reduction in productivity is not clear. 28.9% of employees reported that they were able to produce more and 30.2% said that their productivity had fallen.

Remote working has pros and cons. It is obviously beneficial not to spend time and money commuting to work and can allow employees to carry out their work around other commitments such as caring for children or aging or unwell relatives. Some employees report a reduction in their anxiety levels and an improvement in mental and physical health. Others experience loneliness and/or have difficulties collaborating and communicating with colleagues. Junior employees can have difficulty learning from their peers and supervisors or may struggle to stay motivated. The availability of a range of videoconferencing and IT tools has made working from home possible, but it is not the answer to everything.

This is an evolving story but it appears likely that hybrid working is here to stay, certainly in the short term, and likely in the long term. The issue for employers is to get the balance right, and that may involve different arrangements for employees at different stages in their careers. Younger employees may need to be in the office more to benefit from the supportive and educational environment the workplace can provide. Older more experienced employees may prefer to work more from home, and may be willing or able to stay working for longer, which will benefit them and the whole economy.

Workers’ Rights

If the Government wants to manage the issues highlighted above, it needs to have a thorough, well thought out, joined up policy on workers’ rights. However, the Governments position on workers’ rights at the moment appears to be somewhat contradictory.

The Government have introduced the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill which would allow the Government to impose minimum service levels, allow employers to impose work notices specifying the number of people required to work and allowing employees who refuse to comply with a work notice to be dismissed.

There is also the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill 2022 which will require the removal from the statute book of all retained EU law by the end of 2023 whether or not there is UK legislation to replace it. This could have the effect of removing, for instance, the Working Time Regulations, the TUPE Regulations and, Agency Workers Regulations and at the moment there is nothing on the legislative horizon to replace them. Voids such as this will call into question the Governments’ commitment to workers’ rights.

Having said that, we have also seen steps taken to support workers’ rights. The P&O dismissals without full redundancy consultation in March 2022 were a shock to the workers involved and to the Government. The Government have responded with a consultation on a Statutory Code on Dismissal and Re-engagement (fire and re-hire) with a view to ensuring and improving consultation between employers and employees.

There is also the issue of the gig economy, which can result in precarious and unpredictable work. The Future of Work posits one scenario where temporary or zero hours contracts are the norm in many more organisations, particularly for lower skilled workers. More skilled workers may find themselves engaged on a project basis, rather than in permanent employment. Such working arrangements are not secure and provide the workers concerned with limited rights. There is also likely to be less work, with more of that work being lower paid work, which will result in lower tax revenue for the Government and employees having less available income to support the economy. With higher unemployment, the demands on the social security system will be greater, and this becomes a vicious circle. The UK Government needs to find a way of balancing the needs of workers and employers in the future.

International Women’s Day

This article should be available just before IWD on 8 March 2023. With that in mind, what difference will the trends set out above make to women?

Firstly, consider some basic statistics. “Women in the UK Economy”, a Research Briefing paper from the House of Commons Library dated 4 March 2022, reviewed data from the ONS and the BEIS. In the period October – December 2021 there were 15.52 million women aged 16 and over in employment. Of all employment, 38% of women are in part time employment compared with 13% of men. 78% and 70% of employees in the health and social care and education sectors respectively are women. In April 2021, the median weekly pay for women was £558 and for men £652.

Taking into account the above statistics, women are more likely than men to be in part time employment and are likely to be less well paid. A high percentage of women are in “hands on” work, requiring their attendance in person rather than remote working, so they are less likely to have the opportunity to benefit from any growth in remote working. However, when in other employment they are able to benefit from working remotely, which can help them fit around childcare and other caring obligations.

It is difficult to assess how the need to up-skill will affect woman differently to men. In part that will depend on the availability of affordable training opportunities. If women continue to be paid less than men they will have less money available to pay privately to re-train. If more training is done by employers, if there is still any bias against investing in women in the workplace, are they going to invest in up-skilling women in their workforce?

The Government have recently introduced various “family friendly” Bills such as the Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill, which extends the rights of protection for pregnant women and new mothers. There is the Carers Bill which would require employers to give 1 weeks’ unpaid leave per annum and protection from dismissal/detriment as a result of taking time off to care for a third party. There is the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) bill – to give parents paid time off if their baby requires neonatal care. There is also the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill which imposes on employers a proactive duty to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment of their employees and makes employers liable for harassment by third parties. The Government has also confirmed it will change legislation to make the right to request flexible working apply from the first day of employment, rather than after 26 weeks. Assuming these Bills make it to the statute book, these will be of benefit to women in years to come.


No one has a crystal ball. UKCES posits four possible scenarios, and each of them have their positives and negatives. As the Future of Work notes, the years to 2030 are likely to include elements from all four scenarios. What is clear is that we are already seeing the impact of the four trends set out above, and they will not go away. Each trend impacts the others and may impact men and women differently. Managing these elements so that the UK maintains a successful economy, prosperous businesses and a willing and satisfied workforce is going to require a Government which takes a long term view and then carries that vision forward. We will have to watch this space to see if we have such a Government or will have such a Government in this decade.

For more information please contact Marina Vincent at