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The Age of Uncertainty?

Is it possible for anyone to write anything these days without wondering about whether their comments will age well?

The news cycle has always been relatively short which adds to the adage that a week is a long time in politics. There are many news cycles in a day at present. The inclination in many for a short attention span is fed by the constant changes in this multi-media world.

What has changed in employment law?

So, what can one say about the world of work that is lasting? While there has been a plethora of changes to help us cope with the pandemic, the basic building blocks that underpin employment law have remained constant. There have been clarifications provided by outcomes in litigated cases but there has been no major shift in legislation.

1. The tribunal system has a severe backlog

In many respects, there has been a slow-down. The tribunal system, long underfunded, has a severe backlog of cases to get through. New claims will take a long time to see the light of a full hearing stage. This may be seen as good news for employers and bad news for employees but while there is a pause there is a lack of resolution – which means more uncertainty.

The lack of legislative time, to devote to what may be seen as ordinary business, has also meant a pause in the rush to reform that may otherwise have been the case in the post-Brexit world. However, that reform will come.

2. Recovery from the pandemic is the biggest uncertainty

The immediate concern is the uncertainty of how the recovery from the pandemic will play out and over what time period. At this point, I will stick my head above the parapet and say that there is still a long way to go. I do not intend to count waves but there are many twists and turns to negotiate before we will have a relatively clear path ahead.

In the meanwhile, there is work to be done and people are needed to do that work. No matter how that work is performed, a focus for employers must be on its workforce.

3. Fluidity in the labour market 

There is a great deal of fluidity in the labour market. Good employees will be tempted where skills are in short supply. Many employees will have changed their outlook on life and reassessed their priorities. Pay, for some, will not be the main motivating factor. The “life: work balance” (that is the right order) is foremost in the minds of many. We are going through a period of social re-examination. It is not complete. It is ongoing. In the end, it was ever thus.

Change is constant

If you look back over any given period there has always been change. For some it is fast for others it is slow. Sometimes too fast and sometimes too slow.

Change is a constant. Even if it is not embraced it cannot be ignored. If employers are wise they will see that there has never been a more crucial time to look at what best motivates their workforce and put in place the key elements that will keep them enthused, productive and loyal. There is no one size fits all solution and there is no standing still.

Yes, these are uncertain times but what we can be certain about is that they have long been so and will continue to be.