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New research to focus on the COVID-19-driven aftermath of working from home

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimated that 5% of UK employees were working mainly from home, and up to 30% had ever done so.


Southampton Business School will analyse the long-term implications of working from home.

The UK’s lockdown has radically disrupted organisational expectations and practices, with enforced working from home becoming the norm for many employees over recent months. The ONS has continued to report increasing working from home rates  during lockdown- reaching 49% of employees by mid-June: a significant new homeworking army.  Amid this change, the pandemic provides managers with a unique context for reflecting upon the possibilities and constraints of a remote workforce.

Thanks to funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, a new cross-institutional project led by the University of Southampton Business School will explore how the pandemic has influenced two different UK sectors: professional services and public administration. It will analyse the longer-term implications of working from home, looking at which new behaviours and working practices will remain, and which should be encouraged.  The research is designed to support economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, and will be running regular webinars to engage with employers and share results over the next 18 months.

Using online surveys, organisational case studies and secondary analysis of national datasets, the Southampton team, working in partnership with the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) and specialist flexible working consultancy Half the Sky, will review employer actions, practices and strategic decision-making, as well as employee experiences of working from home during lockdown.  As organisations re-orientate towards economic recovery, it will be vital to understand the significance of contrasting business models and how working practices are changing post-lockdown.

“Working from home during the lockdown has provided global economies with an imperfect indicator of how jobs could be performed differently, and potentially more effectively,” says Principal Investigator Dr Jane Parry, Director of the Centre on Work and Organisations and Deputy Head of Research at the Department of OB/HRM at Southampton Business School.

“A substantial number of people with no previous experience of working from home have found themselves - without warning - doing modified remote jobs,” Dr Parry continues. “Given the pressures that managers are currently facing, we hope that our recommendations about organisational learning during the lockdown will have significant implications for UK jobs.”

Dr Zoe Young, Director of Half the Sky, reflects, “This is a truly exciting partnership of experts and advisors, coming together to respond to what is perhaps the most debated workplace question of the present time.”  

“We have been collecting data from people working at home since the start of ‘lockdown’”, commented Professor Stephen Bevan of IES, “this project will give us a unique opportunity to see how they manage and are managed during the next crucial phases of the pandemic”.

Dr Parry has worked in applied policy research since 2000, with government departments, focusing on changing working practices and occupational inequalities. She is joined on the project by Southampton colleagues Yehuda Baruch, Professor of Management, who has been publishing around the organisational management of homeworking for the past two decades; Mina Beigi, Associate Professor of OB/HRM at Southampton Business School and Co-director of the Work Futures Research Centre (WFRC), whose research focuses on work-life balance and career success; Michail Veliziotis, Associate Professor of HRM and WFRC Co-director who works on large-scale survey data in relation to HR practices and labour market institutions. The team is enhanced by Professor Stephen Bevan, Head of HR Research Development at IES; and Dr Zoe Young, Director of Half the Sky, applied sociologist and author of the 2018 book 'Women's Work'.

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The social contract in the 21st century

The social contract in the 21st century   Economic outcomes and the relationship between individuals and institutions have shifted for workers, consumers, and savers in advanced economies.    Executive Summary (PDF-723KB) Full Report (PDF-2MB)  

Life has changed substantially for individuals in advanced economies in the first two decades of the 21st century as a result of trends including disruptions in technology, globalization, the economic crisis of 2008 and its recovery, and shifting market and institutional dynamics. In many ways, changes for individuals have been for the better, including new opportunities and overall economic growth—and the prospect of more to come as the century progresses, through developments in science, technology and innovation, and productivity growth. Yet, the relatively positive perspective on the state of the economy, based on GDP and job growth indicators, needs to be complemented with a fuller assessment of the economic outcomes for individuals as workers, consumers, and savers

In a report, The social contract in the 21st century: Outcomes so far for workers, consumers, and savers in advanced economies (PDF–2.7MB), the McKinsey Global Institute takes an in-depth look at these changes in 22 advanced economies in Asia, Europe, and North America, covering 57 percent of global GDP. Among the findings: while opportunities for work have expanded and employment rates have risen to record levels in many countries, work polarization and income stagnation are real and widespread. The cost of many discretionary goods and services has fallen sharply, but basic necessities such as housing, healthcare, and education are absorbing an ever-larger proportion of incomes. Coupled with wage stagnation effects, this is eroding the welfare of the bottom three quintiles of the population by income level (roughly 500 million people in 22 countries). Public pensions are being scaled back—and roughly the same three quintiles of the population do not or cannot save enough to make up the difference.

These shifts point to an evolution in the “social contract”: the arrangements and expectations, often implicit, that govern the exchanges between individuals and institutions. Broadly, individuals have had to assume greater responsibility for their economic outcomes. While many have benefited from this evolution, for a significant number of individuals the changes are spurring uncertainty, pessimism, and a general loss of trust in institutions.

Policy makers, business leaders, and individuals will need to focus on two fronts. The first is Policy makers, business leaders, and individuals will need to focus on two fronts. The first is sustaining and expanding the gains achieved through continued economic and productivity growth; business dynamism; investment in economies, technology and innovation; and continued focus on job growth and opportunity creation. The second is tackling the challenges individuals face, especially those most affected. Leaders are beginning to respond to these opportunities and challenges to varying degrees. However, more is needed given the scale of the opportunities and challenges, if the outcomes for the next 20 or more years of the 21st century are to be better than the first 20 and increase broad prosperity.

TABLE OF CONTENTS Employment has risen but labor markets are polarized and wages have stagnated For consumers, discretionary goods and services are cheaper, but housing and other basics are more expensive Individual and institutional savings have declined at a time when they matter even more Institutions have shifted responsibility for outcomes to individuals Outcomes for workers, consumers, and savers vary by socioeconomic groups Adapting the social contract for the 21st century

​Download the full research from McKinsey

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A mid-life employment crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a labour market crisis. Despite unprecedented measures to prevent a rise in unemployment – including the state stepping in to pay the wages of over nine million furloughed workers – the claimant count has risen more sharply than at any time in the last century.

The crisis follows a period when employment among older workers had reached historic highs. This report, in partnership with Centre for Ageing Better, shows that there is a real risk is that the pandemic could reverse this trend, leading to long-term unemployment for older workers:

The number of older workers seeking unemployment related benefits doubled during the lockdown.The number of claims increased by over 280,000 between February 2020 and June 2020, rising from just over 300,000 in February to over 580,000 in June.

This report sets out three steps that the Government can take to support older workers to prevent long-term unemployment in the wake of COVID-19:

New back-to-work support programmes must not repeat the mistakes of the Work Programme. The Government’s announcement of a broad programme of traineeship opportunities available to workers under 25 should be accompanied by support for all adults to retrain, including the over 50s. There is a need for further work to understand financial wellbeing among older workers, how the pandemic has affected them, and the options available to support them, so that appropriate action can be taken. There is a risk of further job losses as the furlough scheme is unwound and as some sectors struggle to recover. One in four older workers – 2.5m in total – have been furloughed, and hundreds of thousands will be unable to return to their previous jobs. One in ten older male workers and one in six female older workers were employed in the ‘shutdown sectors’ hit hardest by the lockdown. Older workers who lose their jobs are far more likely to slip into longterm worklessness. Over 50s who are unemployed are twice as likely to be out of work for 12 months or more as younger workers and almost 50% more likely as workers aged 25 to 49. The pandemic has already had a significant impact on older workers’ finances. Two out of five older workers say that they are concerned that their finances will get worse as a result of the pandemic. Download the full research from Learning & Work Institute