Flexibility and reskilling top priorities for UK employers

19 February 2021 Consultancy.uk 3 min. read
More news on

With no end in sight for the lockdown restrictions which have seen huge swathes of the UK workforce spend most of the last year working from home. Even after the pandemic subsides, however, the majority of British companies are looking to improve flexibility for staff looking to work from home.

When the Covid-19 pandemic first necessitated remote working, many bosses entered lockdown concerned that their staff would experience falls in productivity. Following a rapid period of adjustment, where firms rolled out technology to help facilitate remote working en masse, however, the majority actually found that productivity increased. As a result, while flexible working had slowly been creeping up the corporate agenda, it is now one of the key items as 2021 gets underway.

According to a new survey of UK bosses by consultants at Mercer, 64% of companies are now seeking to ‘reinvent flexibility’ to enable staff to continue working from home at least some of the time. This includes 56% of UK organisations, who said they plan to improve physical wellbeing and health analytics in a bid to help staff stave off the isolation that home work has seen increase.

Flexibility and reskilling top priorities for UK employersAnother top priority amid the disruptive environment of pandemic working is the rapid re-skilling of workers. With firms each looking to come out ahead of their competitors in the post-pandemic recovery, 93% of organisations cite skills development as their key focus in 2021, while 42% are deploying targeted workforce upskilling of critical talent pools.

“2020 significantly impacted the shape and design of the workplace with most companies now working towards adopting a more flexible business model to gain competitive advantage,” said Lisa Lyons, UK Workforce Transformation Leader at Mercer. “Our research findings reinforce the importance of viewing work and people through a skills lens so that companies can act fast and flexibly in the face of disruption. Re-designing jobs in a way that prioritises skills over daily tasks means employers can also better support people in their careers.”

Organisational agility will also be key to excelling in the coming months. As the need to redeploy internal resources to meet demand soared in the last year, 40% of organisations have made it easier to share talent internally with an additional 36% planning to do so this year.

Top priorities for businesses did not only relate to workforce or organisational proficiency, however. After a year in which mass movements against climate change, systemic bigotry and discrimination put the practices of governments and businesses alike under the microscope, many companies are looking to improve their organisational structures. One clear indication of this is that around 53% of UK organisations are now embedding environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) goals into their wider HR transformation agenda.

Mercer also found that 51% of UK companies say they plan to improve analytics on pay equity in the year ahead, while 48% of UK organisations are including select ESG metrics into executives’ personal performance goals to incentivise their promotion. At the same time, 81% of UK HR leaders say their company has continued or stepped up the pace towards an ESG and multi-stakeholder business approach, ahead of the global average of 66%.

Lyons added, “For organisations to make impactful change, responsible business practices require deliberate thought and effort. In the current environment, firms need to lead with empathy and understand what issues matter to their employees. Starting with purpose, ESG must be incorporated into the culture and strategy as a core element and not just as window dressing. To ensure lasting impact we need to change behaviours – through leadership mindsets, evolved decision making and embedding ESG within reward and incentives.”