Are our workers ready for what could be around the corner?


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Already beleaguered by an energy crisis and inflation, the recession driven wind of change could be the final straw.

I came across a new phrase this week – ‘cost of working crisis’ – it stopped me in my tracks and really made me think. The article was detailing a piece of research on the impact of rising prices and transport on workers, and how it was making them feel. Here’s a taster:

A third of UK workers are anxious about the return to the office – with 35 percent of them citing the commute as a key reason. Rocketing costs (the ONS found a 15% increase in July 2022) of travel are biting hard at people’s pockets, as they balance the impact of the commute with the impact of the energy crisis. Oh, and, happy news, the UK just hit double digit inflation on the day of writing this.  

The take home message is that workers are feeling the pinch, really, really feeling it. It’s confounding many organisations’ plans to create sustainable flex working approaches, which are further stressing our workforce that are stuck between a rock and a hard-place. Also, when we are bombarded with stories of quiet quitting, looming financial disasters and the threat of the Ukraine war rippling across the globe, life is pretty bleak for the average worker in the UK.

So, to cheer ourselves up, let’s talk about the ultimate culmination of this. Recession. It’s a ‘four letter word’ (apologies to Mr Clifford, my English teacher) that is being bandied around thick and fast right now. Sadly, there are few people that don’t believe we are headed for one – the question isn’t ‘if’ it’s ‘when, and for how long’. And we know that change walks hand-in-hand with recession.  We’ve got proof too – more than one client with us is leveraging our experience in this area.

My concern is that many organisations are soon going to need to take their people through a process of change, as they respond to the inevitable need for contraction and refocus that a shrinking economy creates. And they are far from ready. 

Most change fails – fails to fully drive paradigm shifts that leverage any structural and process re-organisations. A major factor in this is the failure of the leadership to fully engage people with the change and work with them to enact it. To be successful, we need people to be attentive and energised to make it happen. That sound like our workforce right now? No.

Our most successful change programmes have been when we’ve had the ears, head and heart of the leaders and the wider employee community. We are not going to get that right now. Say ‘change’ to most workers and they will ask you to add it to the top of a very large pile of worries that are already on their plate.

Is it all gloom and doom? Yes. There, I said it, we are in a really bad place right now. Is it hopeless? No. People are amazing things and, if you are an organisation contemplating change, or just sensibly thinking about survival, NOW is the time to invest time and effort into making their lives easier – turning up empathy, flexibility and understanding. It’s also a good point to give your leaders a shot-in-the-arm of inspiration, development and ideas to engage this beleaguered workforce. 

As a post-script, I don’t like the term ‘quiet quitting’ – it’s not really detailing the problem. I feel ‘husk worker’ better sums up the state some people are in right now. And, as we know, even a small wind will blow away a husk.