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Pivotal challenges that defined work in 2021, and shaped what’s to come in 2022

Work is having its moment. The transformation of the global workforce only accelerated in 2021, driven by the continued impact of the pandemic and strains on businesses amid record labour shortages and shifting worker priorities.  

ADP Research Institute found that 64 percent of the global workforce was negatively impacted by COVID-19. Despite the challenges, however, 66% of UK workers do feel optimistic about the next five years at work, and a third think COVID-19 will have a positive effect on flexibility (34%) and work-life balance (28%).  

How and where work gets done has been permanently redefined, and it is now up to businesses to adapt to emerging talent demands to remain competitive. In the UK, ADP’s research points to three key challenges that defined work in 2021:  

  1. Unpaid overtime soared, as well as employee monitoring
    Unpaid overtime in the UK has steadily risen from 6 hours in 2019 to 7 hours in 2020 in the advent of COVID-19, to a whopping almost 8 hours in 2021. In addition, two-fifths of workers (40%) say that their employer is monitoring timekeeping and attendance more closely now than ever. 
  2. Worker confidence has taken a hit, particularly for Gen Z
    With 66% of UK workers feel optimistic about the next five years at work, down from 73% pre-pandemic. In the UK, 54% of workers across all age groups were professionally impacted by COVID-19, compared to 73% of 18–24-year-olds.   
  3. The burden of the pandemic has largely fallen on women
    In the UK, 68% of women received a pay rise or bonus for taking on new roles and extra responsibilities, compared to 76% of men. Almost a third of UK employees (28%) do not believe there is pay equality in their workplace.

To overcome these challenges and rebuild worker confidence in 2022, ADP’s research and deep insight of HR trends points to three key areas for businesses to prioritise in 2022:  

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  1. Employee visibility will be redefined
    To foster connection in the absence of physical proximity, people data will shed insight into the ebbs and flows of engagement and performance, helping managers pull the right levers to support a high-performing remote or hybrid team. A dynamic built on mutual trust will help drive employee engagement and performance 
  2. People & purpose will drive workplace culture
    As employers look for ways to drive inclusion amidst new work models, connection will become a measurement of workforce culture. Employers will need to heighten their focus on their people and reflect on the larger purpose that unites their workforce. 
  3. Reliable data & technology will drive innovation and resiliency
    To navigate forward, leaders will rely more heavily on real-time data to tackle compliance and guide decision-making. Businesses must also turn to technology to drive efficiency by eliminating task work and refocusing efforts on strategic growth initiatives.

Jeff Phipps, ADP UK Managing Director, also commented: 

“We have experienced a tremendous amount of change in the last year, and workers’ priorities have shifted. The effects of the pandemic have seen record levels of unpaid overtime in the UK, hindered the closing of the gender pay gap, and particularly affected the professional lives of those who have just joined the workforce, forcing many to re-evaluate what they want and need from their working lives.  

Moving into the new year, it is more important than ever to address the needs of your teams and ensure communication is a two-way street. Hybrid working is here to stay, and this year has shown that everyone works differently, so having people clocking in and out at specific times, or using rigid metrics to define performance, is unlikely to result in increased productivity or engagement. Leaders must harness individuals’ strengths and provide opportunities for employees to develop new skills or embark on a new career trajectory with more room for growth.” 

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