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Whither the world of work for this year’s graduates?

Author: Angus Farr, Director, Training Counts

Published: 10 Jun 2022

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How hybrid working may impact young people beginning their careers.

It seemed such a straightforward question!

I was talking to someone at a careers event and she asked, not unreasonably, ”so do accountants spend most of their time behind a desk in an office?”

I launched in to my usual spiel outlining the multitude of things accountants do, which mean we could be behind a desk, walking the shopfloor, visiting a client, delivering a lecture, even appearing in court (as an expert witness of course!). 

But I then felt the need to qualify all this by highlighting the impact hybrid working was having on the profession and indeed the entire world of work. So you could be doing most of these things from behind a screen at home, or from behind a screen in an office, or perhaps even from behind a screen on a beach in Thailand (I recently stumbled across a website talking about the best beaches and cafes on Koh Samui for UK digital nomads to work from!). Quite quickly though you realise that there is no ‘one size fits all’ in terms of what young people can expect from their first job. Arguably there never was. But the last six months seem to have thrown up a few more permutations to consider.

A number of banks were quick off the mark requesting (or was that ‘requiring’) staff to return full time to offices as soon as restrictions were lifted. The lawyers Stephenson Harwood recently announced plans to reduce salaries by 20% for staff wanting to work remotely permanently.

And it’s not just the ‘where’ that jobseekers have to take into account, it’s also the ‘when’. Last week, I was fascinated to read about a six-month trial involving 70 companies across a number of sectors where the idea is to pay staff  the same salary but for a four-day working week. This isn’t a compressed work week, where you do your ‘normal’ 35 hours across four days instead of five. It’s an experiment about productivity. Can you work 80% of your usual hours for the same 100% of your salary and be as, if not more, productive?

Wow!

Could you? 

Would you at least like to have been asked?!

The idea of course is to see if ‘productivity per hour’ can be increased by at least 25% by getting people more focused. Perhaps the prospect of a three-day weekend will super-charge productivity across the four-day working week. Or perhaps that 25% per hour pay increase will focus your mind on work and make you less tempted to do your online shopping or favourite word puzzle on company time. It’ll certainly be interesting to see the results of this study.

The trial is international, which is significant as I think there are differences around the world. I have been doing some training recently for a large financial services organisation with UK, European and US operations. Many of the UK and European managers have now factored hybrid working patterns into their plans, not least in terms of what they offer their graduate intake.
Many of their US counterparts however seem to be of the view that hybrid working is an aberration and that we’ll all be ‘back to normal’ full time working in offices before too long. 

We’ll see!

But before we get too precious about the benefits of hybrid working, I remember talking to a bunch of third years at a UK business school last year who were roundly fed up with being ‘remote’ students and were very keen to get jobs working 40+ hours full-time in a city-centre office. For them, I think, it was as much a lifestyle aspiration as it was a recognition of the benefits of in-person collaboration and social learning.

So, if we’re advising young people on career choices, I think now, more than ever, it’s important to keep ourselves updated about the size and shape of jobs out there. I suspect there will be more divergence in the year ahead before there’s any re-convergence.

Right, I need to brush the sand off my sarong and find somewhere for my evening iced tea and red curry.

*The views expressed are the author’s and not ICAEW’s.
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