New research outlines employment trends that are likely to emerge in 2021 with employers and employees alike reflecting on how the future of work has been altered by COVID-19. 

According to a new survey by Robert Walters, which is due to be released in January, almost two-thirds of employees (62 per cent) believe that their expectations of their employer has changed over the past year, in light of COVID-19.

When considering how the pandemic has impacted their own work and skills, around a third of employees (32 per cent) felt that their communication skills had improved, with the help of an increased requirement on virtual presentations, over-the-phone meetings, and video calls.

However, this is not the only way in which the workforce have improved on their skills. Around 13 per cent of professionals reported re-training and upskilling into an entirely different area this year. This is likely to become a more prevalent occurrence as previous research showed that nine out of 10 employees will have to reskill by 2030.

Additionally, COVID-19 has altered career plans with around a quarter of employees (26 per cent) considering entering a new industry that compliments their transferrable skills. A further fifth of workers (18 per cent) are considering learning an entirely new skillset.

Looking into 2021, a key motivating factor for employees is excellent compensation and benefits with over a third (36.9 per cent) valuing this in their company. However, even more importantly, almost half of workers (45 per cent) value colleagues and a working culture that encourages employees to do their best. Another main factor that employees believe to be important is flexible work arrangements (37.7 per cent), perhaps owing to the rise in remote working and the flexibility this has come with.

COVID-19 and the wave of redundancies this has caused has also impacted what employees look for in their job. Around a third (32 per cent) cited job security as a valued perk – the first time in five years that this has appeared as a top perk in the survey. This perhaps indicates some nervousness about the continuing effects of the coronavirus and what this may mean for the job market, especially after the furlough scheme ends.

Around a third of employees (33 per cent) are expecting a pay rise in 2021 – with the majority of these respondents (84 per cent) expecting an increase of up to 10 per cent.

However, when employers were surveyed, this doesn’t seem to be likely to be fulfilled, with around a fifth of employers (18 per cent) stating that they will be unlikely to offer a pay rise. Around three quarters of businesses (71 per cent) stated that they will base staff bonuses off the company’s profits or revenue.

The most important changes for employers over the next year will be reduced or reconfigured office space (59.09 per cent), enhanced mental health & wellbeing policies (57.95 per cent), and an increased investment in technology, apps & tools (44.32 per cent).

Employers have stated that listening to their employees is a key priority with almost two-thirds (61 per cent) willing to change their offering in response to the change in employees’ expectations.

Chris Hickey, UK CEO of Robert Walters, said:

We anticipate that some of the changes incorporated into workplaces as a result of Covid-19 in 2020 will be more enshrined in day to day working environments going forward.  With this in mind, we expect the way of working to change in a number of sectors, with an element of remote working continuing to be incorporated in some industries and sectors.

Whilst the pandemic did not necessarily bring about entirely new trends in working-style, it certainly fast-tracked the inevitable around flexible working – speeding the transition up by as much a 5-10 years for some companies.  One trend of note post lockdown in the UK, was when workplace restrictions were temporarily eased by the government, we saw a number of professionals gravitating back to an office for a variety of reasons.

With a general view that offices provide a clear delineation between work and home, as well as in a number of sectors benefitting productivity, communication, and wellbeing – offices will continue to remain a social hub for many professionals, albeit a socially distanced hub for the short-term.

*These findings were taken from the Robert Walters Salary Survey 2021 which is due to be released in January. It surveyed 2,000 UK professionals and 300 employers to obtain these results.