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Why now is the time to apply innovative thinking to how we shape the workplace so that it can withstand future shocks.
What are the practical ways employers can reduce job losses and how do we best support those who do lose their jobs back into work in a highly competitive labour market?
A recent Royal Society report sought to look at some of the more creative ways employers could reduce the rise of Covid-19 as workplaces re-open and the furlough scheme winds down in order to prevent another mass lockdown with all that might mean for the economy and jobs. Its suggestions include workplace rotation schemes, extending flexible furlough, creating new green jobs, promoting interventions that are targeted at the most vulnerable, subsidised workplace testing and incentivising investment in homeworking technologies to encourage more jobs that can be done from home.
Other employers have reduced hours to save jobs, but another suggestion is to encourage more job sharing, meaning two experienced members of staff are retained. Given the childcare challenges of the last few months, many might welcome reduced hours and the chance to share the pressures, particularly of high-pressure jobs, and employers would benefit from two people’s experience in one job.
For those who can’t afford to halve their hours, another suggestion is the four-day week. Advocates say that reducing to four days more than pays for itself in improved motivation and productivity. At a recent webinar on the four-day week Professor Jan-Emmanuel de Neve from Oxford University said there was a need for much wider piloting of the four-day week. His research on a reduced week shows a clear link between well being and productivity, with workers being more efficient, taking more calls per hours and converting more calls to sales. That greater productivity was linked to greater work life balance, he said.
There were some concerns on the webinar that a move to a four-day week during Covid would be seen merely as a cost-cutting measure and could end up permanently driving down wages.
Andrew Barnes, co-organiser of the webinar, founder of Perpetual Guardian and author of The 4-day week, said this had happened in the past and wages had not gone back up. He called for employers to use the next months as a trial with regard to productivity on a four-day week. They could reduce wages, but would need to give a cast-iron guarantee that this would be temporary as the economy recovered.
In Germany, where the Government is likely to extend its part-time furlough scheme to 24 months, there have also been calls for a four-day week. This week a senior German government minister backed a call by IG Metall, Germany’s largest trade union, for a four-day week that it said could protect jobs threatened by digitalisation and the economic slump brought about by the pandemic. Hubertus Heil, the German labour minister, said that he would be open to such a policy if businesses were on board – and hourly wages increased. Employers are more reluctant about the latter during an economic recession.
What is certainly needed is creative thinking around how to save the most jobs possible because finding a new one will be hard and self employment is not the simple success story many paint it as. Much more needs to be done to support the self-employed, particularly women, who are among those hardest hit economically by Covid-19.
Another report just out from the New Economics Foundation proposes high street self employment centres be set up to provide advice, support and networking opportunities – and perhaps childcare – for the self employed as well as to revive high streets. Funding would, of course, be an issue, but investment in new jobs and back-to-work schemes will be vital to offset increased spending on benefits and to revive the economy.
Now is the time to apply innovative thinking to how we shape the workplace so that it can withstand future shocks.