Bullying people back to the workplace

Why bullying people back to the office rather than addressing the serious issues in the economy and opening up employment possibilities is short-sighted.

Woman with disabilities working from home


Another day, another attack on home working. The status quo is clearly a very difficult thing to shift in some people’s mindsets. While the Prime Minister seems not to have moved on from his 2012 Olympics comments about homeworking being a ‘skivers’ charter’, he is in part responding to pressure from businesses in city centres and transport organisations and to some parts of the media who are set on goading him about how many civil servants are back in the office. Apparently, unless we are all chained to the desk we are lazing around doing nothing much even though the actual evidence of the last 18 months shows entirely the opposite.

I guess politicians reckon that they may win support from the media if they bully everyone back to the workplace and some elements of the media just love a brawl and seem to have it in for the kind of people they think homeworkers might be.

The excuse that is trotted out all the time is that young people cannot learn a job online. The young are suddenly important when it is politically convenient for them to be. There are certainly challenges for those starting out, but no-one is saying that everyone needs to work from home. It’s just about allowing more people to have the option, whether permanently or a few days a week, because it opens up employment to larger numbers of people. Some parts of the Government seem to get that – hence the consultation on making flexible working a day one right [despite it not going far enough], but the leadership seems to be oblivious.

Having a balanced discussion about macroeconomic policy, including the merits and drawbacks of the way our economy focuses on large metropolises rather than on smaller towns or more rural areas, about who ‘back to normal’ includes and who it excludes and so forth, is vital, but this habit we have got into of just slinging around insults and stereotypes and only looking at issues from one point of view is not helpful.

Twitter can be a very useful tool, but, as we know, it can reduce arguments to slanging matches and enhance division. Couple that with a political elite which seems to spend much of its time looking for almost anyone to blame and you get a poverty of thinking about anything past surviving the next 24-hour news cycle. That means deeply entrenched challenges don’t get properly looked at.

Division on every level seems to be the name of the game. Instead of doing something about challenging problems such as skills shortages the answer is to blame employers for not planning properly for a crisis they were assured  would not happen.  Employers are apparently responsible for immigration policy, for the lack of long-term planning for massive demographic changes with the Baby Boomer generation coming to retirement age, for economic policy, for transport policy [the lack of adequate truck stops], for the lack of childcare infrastructure, for low pay across so many sectors and so forth. None of this is the responsibility of Government, it would seem.

The question never seems to be asked about what happens to the shortages in other sectors if more people become lorry drivers and what can be done to get those people who are not currently able to work back into the workforce bar getting the Job Centre to help people rewrite their CVs or think about a career in technology or trucking. While one to one advice and retraining is welcome, it doesn’t even scratch the surface of the practical barriers many people face. Everything is linked.

Yet from the political discourse you would think that wage rises mean we can all sit back and wait for the recovery. Although boosting people’s wages is welcome news to those in sectors where earnings are rising, on its own it cannot magically conjure up enough people to fill all the skills gaps the country faces.  You would also think from recent political coverage that employers alone hold the key to all the barriers that prevent people working, such as, for instance, childcare or the way the benefits system is structured or, indeed, access to remote working…

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