Outlook for 2017: optimism for UK employees, but will it last?

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Shonette Laffy
Deputy Editor
TrainingZone
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CIPD recently published their bi-annual Employee Outlook survey, so we thought it would be helpful to have an overview of the key findings and changes for our readers. Luckily, Claire McCartney was happy to help and has rounded up some of the more interesting insights from the survey below.

It is encouraging to be able to report some positive findings coming through from the latest CIPD/Halogen Employee Outlook survey of over 2,000 employees, and this comes at a particularly interesting time for the UK, in light of both Brexit and a relatively new prime minister.

Job satisfaction is on the rise

There have been noticeable improvements in job satisfaction across the board, but particularly for employees working in the public sector.

Job satisfaction in the public sector is at its highest level in four years and the sector has also seen improvements when it comes to employee perceptions of leaders, opportunity to use knowledge and skills at work, and motivation by the core purpose of employees’ organisations.

Job satisfaction in the public sector is at its highest level in four years

However, areas to watch for public sector employees relate to feeling excessive pressure on a daily basis and coming home from work exhausted. Work is also associated with positive rather than negative emotions for many, with employees most likely to say that work makes them feel 'cheerful' most or all of the time, and this is followed by 'optimistic'.

A positive financial outlook for employees

Fewer employees in this survey compared with a year ago believe it is likely that they could lose their current main job, and the outlook for employees’ financial security is also fairly positive.

Satisfaction with pay has increased and the largest number of employee respondents have not experienced any change in their financial security since the start of the year, and don’t anticipate any change in the next 12 months.

Little impact to organisations following Brexit

In addition to the findings on job satisfaction and financial outlook, we tried to gauge employee perceptions of potential changes in their organisations in the light of the EU referendum.

We looked at the impact on four areas: organisation costs, competitiveness of exports, investment in equipment and technology, and investment in workforce training and development. The good news is that the largest group of employees believe that the UK’s decision to leave the EU will make little or no difference to any of these things:

  • Organisational costs (53%)
  • Workforce training and skill development (60%)
  • Investment in equipment and technology (61%)
  • Competitiveness of exports (48% of those that export products and services).

However, a quarter of employees do anticipate a rise in organisation costs as a result of the UK’s decision to leave the EU and just over a tenth anticipate a reduction in competitiveness of exports, investment in equipment/ technology and workforce training and development.

Why might this be so?

These largely positive findings might at first seem puzzling given the current, unsettled context that the UK finds itself in. However, there was a great deal of uncertainty before the EU referendum, so people might actually be feeling more settled now.

Employees might also be experiencing the optimism that often comes with a new government, and it could also be that some of the government’s messages on fairness and equality might be resonating with workers, particularly those in the public sector.   

While job satisfaction levels are high, stress and exhaustion levels are also high

However, these findings shouldn’t lead to any complacency. While job satisfaction levels are high, stress and exhaustion levels are also high, particularly in the public sector. HR and L&D professionals need to be mindful of how to support employees in periods of wider uncertainty.

How can organisations support employees?

While the impact of the referendum result won’t be felt immediately, there is the potential for major changes to occur in the future to employment law, immigration and the ability to bring the right skills into businesses.

At the CIPD, we believe that HR and L&D professionals should be using Brexit as a stimulus for applying focus to what we should already be doing as an economy and society: to get the fundamentals right, to build a stronger, more productive workforce, and workforces that engender growth and inclusiveness.

Try to therefore maintain a longer-term perspective when it comes to: understanding the wider context in which you are operating; the skills and talent you need to be developing now and in the future; building inclusive cultures which really engage all of your employees; and importantly ensuring that your values are clearly embedded into those cultures.

Enabling growth in uncertain times

Another important way in which HR and L&D can support employees in periods of wider uncertainty is to keep a strong focus on development and up-skilling.

Our research shows employee dissatisfaction with opportunities to learn and grow at work - thinking creatively about development doesn’t necessarily have to cost the organisation a great deal, but can make a significant difference to employees’ performance, motivation and future capability. Consider whether you can provide opportunities for cross-function working, access to special projects and short and longer-term secondments to build experience and boost future employability.    

Thinking creatively about development doesn’t have to cost a great deal, but can make a significant difference

Finally, for those struggling with stress and overworking, flexible working is an obvious but not always commonly adopted way of helping employees to get their work-life balance on an even keel. Line managers should ensure that they are having regular one-to-ones with team members, looking out for any signs of stress and exhaustion, distributing workloads evenly wherever possible, and warning against the negative health consequences of over-working.

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