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Reset of the career ladder - The new age of work

By Chloe Lewis, UKI Client Director at Alight Solutions

June 14 2022 - Office jobs have changed drastically and moving up the career ladder is not what it used to be anymore. Employees are more confident, less afraid to change their lives and take risks than they would have before, a testament to the resilience of ‘The Great Resignation’. These changes have also affected the way companies recognise and reward talent. As we move further into a new era of working, are we witnessing a reset of the career ladder?

Domino effect of the pandemic

We all saw that isolation and working from home drove major changes in thousands of people’s lives - a shift that forced them to think more about life and what they want. Putting this into perspective has become a catalyst for people to quit jobs they were unsatisfied with - an impulsiveness that wasn’t as common pre-Covid. According to ONS figures, the number of job vacancies in the UK reached a new high of 1,298,400 from November 2021 to January 2022, up 513,700 from the pre-coronavirus period of January to March 2020. The rate of increase in vacancies, on the other hand, has slowed. The number of job openings per 100 employees continued to climb, hitting a new high of 4.3 in November 2021 to January 2022, with most industry sectors posting new high ratios.

Of course, changing jobs immediately means potentially entering a new ladder at a new company. This is not to say moving up is impossible. However, there is a difference between climbing the ranks for 20 years in a company and climbing the same ranks across 5-10 different companies over the same period time. Changing jobs is common, but many people also decided to monetise their hobbies and start new businesses. Instead of changing ladders, they made and are now climbing their own!

Workforce losing its older workers

Disappointingly, the number of workers 55 and over has significantly reduced over the pandemic, with ONS figures stating the number of people aged 50-65 who were not looking for work increased by 200,000 since the pandemic began. Amid redundancies and lack of opportunities, finding a new job proved challenging and many decided not to return to the workforce. Not only that, but younger workers earn on average less than their senior counterparts. If older workers struggled finding new jobs before, a post-pandemic economy has worsened the situation and is slowly pushing them out of the job market.

The hopes and dreams of younger generations

Changing careers at 25 is generally not as daunting as changing at 50. The average age women are having children - something that changes people’s lives forever and brings extra responsibility and need for stability - is increasing every year. The 20’s are now dedicated to self-discovery. The pressure to decide on a career at 20 and stick to it forever has passed and given way to a more fluid approach. People try new things until they settle on something they like, they flirt with new jobs, new companies, new environments, new routines. There is high demand for talent in many areas, and the supply is also stacked - it is a fast-paced world where staying in one place for too long can actually hinder professional progression.

Prioritising passion over pay

People are prioritising their passion above their pay. If money was the biggest driving force behind so many corporate careers, passion is now growing in command of people’s aspirations. Furloughed employees were forced to isolation, a perfect scenario for introspection and a shift of outlook on life. Having time to live life opened up new and previously unimaginable possibilities. Happiness and self-fulfillment grew in their influence over our decisions. Better working conditions and work environment could justify a lower pay; genuine adoration for a job could make overlooking smaller pay a little easier. Investing in a life-long dream project became a plausible choice.

Flexible work’s influence

One of the bigger disadvantages of remote working is that being promoted might be a little slower. Leaders and HR teams have to overcome that working face to face with the same team daily gives visibility. Managers especially get a much clearer picture of what is happening than they would through ‘videoconference’ updates. Seeing work happen can justify promotions earlier than otherwise. To maintain the flexibility of hybrid work, employees could change jobs a lot faster than before, to avoid stalling in their careers. Changing companies could help progress faster in their professions, even if that means starting in a completely new environment a few times over a decade.

So, what does all this mean? The workplace career ladder is evolving. People have varied ideas about what it means to "move forward" and how to achieve it. Workplaces have changed, and the future of employment remains uncertain. However, we can plainly observe changes taking place. When making life-altering decisions, workers prioritise various factors, some of which were previously unaddressed. The world of work will keep on changing, whether it is for happiness, passion, wellbeing, or just 'living for now.'



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