Flexible working threatened by global economic uncertainty

Business leaders forced to make tough decisions on skills development, employee well-being and flexibility, LinkedIn study says

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About 68 per cent of business leaders globally believe that progress made on flexible working during the Covid-19 pandemic is now at risk as companies navigate economic uncertainty, according to a survey by professional network LinkedIn.

The current global climate is slowing down progress in important areas of working life, with 75 per cent of business leaders worried it will affect employee well-being, 74 per cent concerned about skills development and 68 per cent saying it will weigh on flexible work arrangements, the research showed.

The study polled more than 2,900 executive-level managers from large companies across the US, the UK, Germany, the UAE, Australia and other countries between September 27 and October 19.

“As we have seen in the last couple of years, flexible working and learning and development have become important elements in ensuring business resilience,” said Ali Matar, head of LinkedIn Mena and Venture Markets.

“While difficult decisions undoubtedly have to be made, it is important to remember that people are a company’s most valuable asset, and protecting their well-being is vital to getting through this time. Employers that invest in their people during these times will be the ones that come out stronger.”

Companies around the world have increasingly focused on employee well-being, work-life balance and learning opportunities in the post-coronavirus era.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020, employees and jobseekers have been requesting to work from home at least two days a week, in addition to asking for flexible hours and training opportunities, recruitment company Robert Half said in its 2022 salary guide.

More than half of employees in the Mena region have considered leaving their current jobs to find a better work-life balance at some point during the past 12 months, a Bayt.com survey found last month.

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While 77 per cent of business leaders in the UAE believe that flexible work conditions will remain for at least the next five years, more than three quarters expressed concern that the prevailing global economic uncertainty could push back the progress made on flexibility, the LinkedIn survey said.

Leaders are trying to bring back employees to the office, with 44 per cent of executives in the Emirates saying they planned to reduce remote and flexible working roles, the survey found.

Twenty-nine per cent of business leaders in the UAE also plan to reduce investments in financial support and professional development programmes for employees.

More than half of those polled said management would prioritise financial preparedness over the next six months to weather economic uncertainty and save costs, LinkedIn said.

The difficult decisions that leaders have been forced to make are taking a toll, with 35 per cent admitting to feelings of guilt over these decisions and 36 per cent experiencing impostor syndrome as their people take a hit, the survey found.

With challenging times ahead, leaders said keeping employees motivated and engaged is among their top workforce priorities over the next six months, the survey said.

As a short-term remedy, 46 per cent of employers in the UAE are granting incentives to employees through subsidised commuting costs while 38 per cent are offering direct financial well-being assistance to address the rising cost of living, LinkedIn said.

Additionally, 41 per cent of UAE business leaders said they would offer employees opportunities to move into different roles within the organisation, compared with a global average of 34 per cent.

Employees who make an internal move are more likely to stay at their organisation longer than those who stay in the same role, LinkedIn said.

Meanwhile, business leaders in the UAE said communication is the top soft skill necessary to pull through economic uncertainty, followed by problem-solving, transparency and empathy, the survey said.

The soft skills of problem-solving, communication and strategy were featured in 78 per cent of jobs posted globally on LinkedIn over the past three months.

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Six in 10 UAE business leaders said a democratic management style was also key to increasing the motivation level of employees.

While more than half of the senior executives surveyed in the Emirates said it was currently more difficult to adopt a long-term approach to their workforce planning, they identified key strategies to increase resilience on the part of their workforce.

More than half of the respondents said they would gradually introduce more opportunities for employees to develop their skills while 46 per cent said they would open up communication channels for improvement and 44 per cent said they would encourage mental health and well-being, LinkedIn said.

Updated: November 07, 2022, 6:00 AM
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