CBI and recruitment experts Harvey Nash have offer a new report suggesting that good communication and engagement with staff has helped to make the workforce changes needed to safeguard jobs during the recession.

Picking up the Pace: The CBI/Harvey Nash Employment Trends Survey 2010 provides an insight into how employers and staff worked together during the recession to keep job losses to a minimum.

The survey of UK employers reveals that over 90 per cent of employers communicated the impact of the recession on their business to staff. As a result, 87% of businesses believe staff understood the need to change working patterns, and more than half (56%) said staff showed a flexible attitude to change.

Questioned on how they got through the recession, a large majority of employers (83%) believe the UK’s flexible labour market helped stem job losses. Nine out of 10 companies made changes to working patterns in response to the recession. The most widespread measures were pay and recruitment freezes, which were introduced by 58% and 54% of firms respectively. More than a third (35%) introduced flexible working, including teleworking.

Other changes included: cutting back on paid overtime (32%); reducing the use of agency workers (28%); cutting shifts (13%) and short-time working (12%).

Employers believe strong employee engagement was important during the recession and seven out of 10 firms believe it will play an important role in the recovery. The most popular method of communicating the impact of the recession to employees was through face-to-face meetings (89%), backed up by email updates (54%), intranet postings (48%) and letters (26%).

As the economy recovers, the survey also shows employers are phasing out some of the more drastic measures introduced during the recession and are hiring again. A year ago nearly two-thirds of companies had a recruitment freeze in place. This fell to 37% six months ago and now stands at just 5%.

But most businesses are still adopting a cautious approach to pay: 16% still have a pay freeze, while just 3% are planning to make an above-inflation pay award.

When asked to list their top three workforce priorities for the coming months, more than two-thirds of employers (67%) said achieving high levels of employee engagement is top of their list, followed by containing labour costs (48%). Recruiting to key vacancies (42%) and retaining staff emerged (42%) as the joint third most popular priorities.

John Cridland, CBI deputy director-general, said: “Employers have come out the other side of the recession, having managed to keep many more people in jobs than had been expected. This has been largely down to the flexibility and goodwill of staff who quickly adapted to emergency measures, including pay and recruitment freezes. Good communication played a key role in helping employees understand the changes needed to safeguard jobs.

“So far the public sector has been cushioned from the impact of the recession, but it now faces a squeeze. Drawing on the experience of the private sector in engaging employees during the recession to deliver much-needed change could help the public sector minimize the pain of spending cuts.”