where will the power struggle between boss and worker go
Global – Employers, for the most part, have been keen to push workers back to their desks or jobs, whether full-time or part-time. However, not all pushes have been successful because many employees want to maintain the flexible remote work models they have become accustomed to during the ups and downs of Covid-19.
So far, this tug-of-war has taken place against a backdrop that has mostly favored the workers. The Great Retirement, a protracted hiring crisis and an increase in worker activism. But as economic conditions deteriorate, the balance will shift in favor of employers, and will this lead to a return to pre-pandemic working methods?
How the fight has played out so far
The events of the past two plus years have given workers a level of power they did not have before Covid-19. The lockdown has sent many knowledge workers home, where they have largely proven they can work productively away from personal conditions. Over time, these flexible work habits have become more ingrained, with many employees expressing dissatisfaction with plans to return to the office.
As the peak of Covid subsided in the spring of 2021, the Great Retirement began, with millions of employees starting to leave their jobs. The reasons varied, but in general, knowledge workers left because of more flexible options, higher pay, and meaning in their careers. As the economy recovered from the pandemic, there was a mismatch between the supply of workers and the number of vacancies.
How an economic downturn can change the balance
However, while the past 18 months may have been a golden period for some workers, that may very well be changing. Inflation is skyrocketing, and few economies will be able to avoid a slowdown in 2023 (although the outlook for the US is certainly better than for Europe). This is likely to affect the relationship between companies and their employees, although the impact will vary by sector, age and skill level.
There are already signs that the looming economic downturn is forcing companies to make decisions that will reduce workforce mobility. In tech, for example, some of the largest firms in the world have begun layoffs, hiring freezes, and even canceled job offers following rapid post-pandemic growth. Cross-sector layoffs were also announced in the US, with an August 2022 survey of 722 executives showing that half planned to cut jobs.
All of this means that while power is certainly going back to employers as a whole, the results will not be equal. Some workers will be able to keep the flexibility and conditions they got during the pandemic, while others may have to settle for whatever employers want to give them.