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PricewaterhouseCoopers: How downturn will change future of work
September, 18th 2009

Some employer brands have suffered hugely as a result of people management decisions made during the downturn, while others have excelled.

Many once-powerful employer brands will be unable to attract top talent in the next decade. This is according to a report on how the downturn will change the future of work, published by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

Pay and promotion freezes, changes to pension schemes, cuts in recruitment and slashed training budgets, combined with poor communication, have eroded the bonds of trust between some employers and their employees. In contrast, other organisations have excelled at doing more with less to engage and develop their employees in an unstable employment landscape where many individuals view their career prospects as stagnant or diminishing.

One in five (21%) UK employees trust in their employer has decreased during the recession, according to new PwC research. Approximately the same number (18%) said their trust in their line manager has declined. In contrast, more people said their trust in their colleagues has increased (15%) than said the relationships have suffered (9%). The findings suggest that peer relationships are more durable in troubled times than those that are hierarchical or impersonal - once again confirming the need for honest, two-way communication across organisations.

Michael Rendell, partner and leader, human resource services, PricewaterhouseCoopers, commented:

As the long-term impact of people decisions taken during the downturn begins to be felt, the winners and losers of the war for talent are starting to reveal themselves - with those who continued to focus on investment and employee engagement emerging as clear leaders. Those who continued to offer their employees new opportunities and invested in their people pipeline are now at a competitive advantage.

Some of the UK supermarkets are a great example of where brave people management decisions have paid off to help them secure the next generation of leadership cadre and pick up top-performers at all levels from different industries. Other companies appear to have panicked and made decisions based on short-term gain that will have long-term repercussions for their people pipeline and their future prospects.

The paper Managing tomorrows people: how the downturn will change the future of work uses scenario planning to map how the crisis will impact the widely accepted shortage of talent predicted for tomorrows world.

Michael Rendell, partner and leader, human resource services, PricewaterhouseCoopers, commented:

The ageing population means that, in a decade or so, there will be up to four different generations in the workplace, which will present huge and new challenges for employers. The success or failure of people strategies will have a decisive impact on which organisations become the big brands and top employers of the next decade - some clear heroes and villains have already revealed themselves but, with things changing daily, there is everything to play for.

The PwC report looks back from 2020 and tells the story of how three fictitious organisations emerged from the current crisis - specifically in terms of their people strategies. The conclusion from all three scenarios is that, as global economies start to stabilise, companies need to assess whether their people plans - which include the ways people are recruited, rewarded, retained, incentivised, trained and retired - are fit for the future.

With the rapidly changing and increasingly complex nature of the workplace in mind, the report envisages a changed employment landscape where employers fish in dark pools for specialist talent, issue business passports for highly-mobile executives and how workers with technical skills behave like individual companies outsourcing their administration and billing needs to international trade guilds. It also considers proposals for how employee and executive reward can be reformed.

Michael Rendell, partner and leader, human resource services, PricewaterhouseCoopers, commented:

Preparing for the future world of work means engaging with different groups of employees, making changes to remain sustainable and competitive, and accepting the role of people measurement has never been more critical. Health and wellbeing, global mobility and technology issues will continue to rise up the corporate agenda. The downturn also presents a shift in performance-related pay, which is changing the notion of reward and retirement arrangements for governments, business leaders and individuals.

As employees increasingly choose employers that fit their own priorities, ideals and lifestyles, businesses need to consider where they fit in terms of the financial and personal benefits they offer and whether or not this is how they want to be positioned in future.

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