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Y & Z: Year Zero

2020 was like being punched hard in the mouth, finding yourself sitting on your arse in the corner of the ring and everyone waving towels in your face, telling you to stay down. Where the hell did that come from?

At the beginning of 2021, we can all agree that 2020 is a year we will never forget. For all the wrong reasons. 

England has been put back into full lockdown mode for the next three or four months and other countries are all adopting varying approaches to a virus that has seemingly transmuted into something more infectious than it was last year. 

Germany is expected to extend its national lockdown today, in order to drive the infection rate down, while Denmark could face harsher rules because of fears over the ‘UK variant’ of the disease. 

France sent all 12million of its schoolchildren back to the classroom on Monday, while Spain is not in lockdown and Italy is planning to ease restrictions on Thursday. 

France has vowed to ramp up its vaccine delivery ‘on an exponential curve’, while other countries are weighing up whether to follow Britain’s model and use up its stock of vaccines to give one dose to as many people as possible. 

Britain currently has by far the highest infection rate in Western Europe, followed by the Republic of Ireland, and then Sweden which is still holding out against lockdowns.   

In this, our final entry in the A-Z of Coronavirus, we take a look at what Year Zero might mean for our relationship with work.

The unemployment rate for the eurozone had increased to 8.1%, by October, while the figure for the EU as a whole went up to 7.4%. This was the fifth month in a row of rising unemployment for the European Union and the eurozone, according to the European Statistics Office.

In August, 15.6 million men and women were unemployed in the EU. Compared to July, there were 238,000 more unemployed people in the EU27 and 251,000 in the common currency area.

Consultancy firm, McKinsey, has predicted a near doubling of unemployment in Europe, with up to 59 million jobs at risk from permanent cutbacks, as well as reductions in pay and hours because of the pandemic, and it is the young who will be hit particularly hard, with Nicolas Schmit, the Commissioner for jobs and social rights, saying, we have to address the challenges and avert the prospect of another ‘lost generation’.

The countries with the largest increases in unemployment in August (compared with July) were Lithuania, which went from 9% to 9.6%, and Cyprus, where joblessness rose from 6.9% to 7.4%. In addition, France saw its unemployment rate go from 7.1% to 7.5% and Spain from 15.9% to 16.2%.

Year-on-year, the main increases were recorded in Lithuania (from 6.6% to 9.6%), Latvia (from 6.2% to 8.8%), Bulgaria (from 3.9% to 6.2%), Sweden (from 6.9% to 9.2%) and Spain (14.3% to 16.2%).

Across Europe, governments have started their programmes of vaccination, but we are all learning to accommodate the virus in all aspects of our life.

The world of work has, and will be forever changed by the pandemic lockdowns. 

Some people miss the office; the ones who were never too keen on it, celebrate its demise.

People with public-facing roles have been dying performing their duties; not just medics, but bus drivers, taxi drivers and cashiers. These are the jobs previously described as ‘low skilled’; perhaps we will treat people in these roles with more consideration and respect in the future.

Indeed, being able to perform your job from your sofa, is probably proof that it is, actually, not that important.  

For the white collar worker, commuting has come to a halt and businesses are rethinking the future role of the office.

Pre-crisis, approximately one in 20 people worked entirely remotely, but three times that number were working from home at least one day a week. Like all Covid-trends, this was already happening and has just been brought into sharper relief because of current events. The future will be hybrid home/office working.

The pandemic has forced management to analyse its relationship with its workers in lots of ways.

The Workplace Happiness Survey has collected data from hundreds of thousands of employees and its findings show that employees have become a top priority for companies in a way they were not before Covid. This is for health and well-being issues as well as economic reasons. In return, employees will offer loyalty to management who have been supportive through the pandemic. 

Care for employees has been tangible; implementing PPE, screens, hand gel and social distancing; pre-Covid, employees gave their managers six out of 10 for caring for their well-being, but this is now more than seven out of 10. People saying they feel anxious at work has, unsurprisingly, risen from 58% to 61%.

Employees who have moved to working from home are the happiest. Before the pandemic, the average workplace happiness score was 64% and it is now 72%. This is down to excising the commute, cost and time, and the flexibility to manage their own time and work in a comfortable space.

Home workers say they are now better rewarded, up from 62% to 69%, and they prefer their home working environment, with 69% of workers now happy with where they work, as opposed to 63% previously.  

It seems companies, on the whole, have put effort into good communications and employees say they are being told more compared to a year ago and questions around information sharing have risen six percentage points to 72% and that is good news, because the flow of information leads to greater individual empowerment, an outcome employers should be keen to maintain.

Those who work from home tend to feel trusted and they also claim that they are more productive (up eight percentage points).

Over lockdown, men have become happier at work, a reversal of 2019, with women currently feeling least heard at work, and saying childcare duties during lockdown fell mainly on them and with schools closed, they had to juggle caring and teaching children as well as working from home. 

There was an improvement in happiness across all age groups this year, but with 19-24-year-olds benefitting the least over lockdown, mainly due to a lack of face-to-face direction from more senior team members and the absence of socialising.

The younger workers may also have a poorer work environment than older colleagues, maybe sharing their home with flat mates, and their productivity is more likely to be affected. Younger workers are much keener to return to the office than older workers because older (experienced) workers believe that they can be more efficient working from home.

2021, or Year Zero, will be the year in which the forced changes in work habits, become more embedded, companies search for smaller offices and employees look for a garden. The rapid evolution of work has begun and business needs to balance the safety and satisfaction of its workforce, with effective connectivity, training, career development and creativity. 

The bottom line is; Only 18% of employees want to return to the world of work as it was before the pandemic. 

Only 18% of employees want to return to the world of work as it was before the pandemic. 

Only 18% of employees want to return to the world of work as it was before the pandemic. 

Only 18% of employees want to return to the world of work as it was before the pandemic. 

 

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