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2012 trends in world of work

Tuesday 20 December 2011

The head of Britain's top employment relations service is highlighting the challenges for the world of work in 2012.

Ed Sweeney, chairman of Acas, pinpoints four key areas he sees as the likely workplace issues in the year ahead.

He says one could be employers struggling to keep up workforce morale and commitment when both their organisation and Britain's economy is struggling. Another is that many bosses and staff will want to resolve disagreements quickly.

And third, more employers will need to learn how to harness fully the benefits of using social media websites as a marketing tool, while effectively managing any misuse which can damage a business's reputation. A fourth may be the impact of older workers retiring later.

Here, he outlines the issues in more detail:

Employment relations

    "Economic difficulties continue and tensions in the workplace in the form of the larger 
    disputes have by no means disappeared.

    "While we have seen some high-profile strikes, we need to keep things in perspective. 
    The number of disputes and days lost to strikes remain at historically low levels. In 
    fact, the number of work days lost to strikes is at its lowest for 20 years.

    "But in 2012 we could see tensions where employees are looking to make up for the 
    pay and other concessions made during the recession.

    "If inflation continues to rise, the mood for industrial action over pay claims is also 
    likely to rise. We could still be in for a bumpy 12 months although we should 
    remember that the partnership approach to employment relations arose out of the 
    recession in the 1990s. We may see a similar pragmatic approach to employment 
    relations this time around."

Resolving disputes in the workplace

    "The outcome of the Government's resolving workplace disputes consultation 
    announced a number of changes with a wider role for Acas to resolve disputes before 
    they reach a formal claim to an employment tribunal.

    "In the coming year, this is going to help focus minds on the principle of resolving 
    disputes within the workplace before they can escalate, even before Acas' wider role 
    to achieve this comes in effect in 2014.

    "We welcome the Government's proposal to expand our pre-claim conciliation service 
    because it will mean greater access to early intervention in workplace disputes and 
    ultimately more long-term and positive working relations.

    "The service is called pre-claim conciliation (PCC) because Acas tries to broker a 
    solution before a worker actually lodges a claim with an employment tribunal.

    "The ethos of PCC is that it is simpler, quicker, cheaper and less stressful than going 
    to tribunal, and we know it works."

Social media

    "The rise of social media in recent years has been truly phenomenal. Facebook has 
    more than 500 million users sharing more than 30 billion pieces of content each 

    "Social media throws up a number of issues for employees and employers in relatively 
    uncharted territory for many.

    "For instance should employers limit workforce access to social media sites at work? 
    Can they regulate employee's behaviour on sites outside of work if postings are 
    work-related? And what types of behaviour should result in disciplinary action?

    "Social media was the most popular new guidance we launched this year - employers 
    know that it's an area they need to tackle."


The ageing workforce

    "One of the most significant changes that will impact on the workplace is the ageing of 
    the workforce. The Default Retirement Age has been removed and this, coupled with 
    the announced increases in state pension age, means that the average age of the UK 
    workforce is expected to increase.

    "In these difficult economic times, the issue of the ageing workforce may not appear to 
    be high on the agenda. However, this changing landscape will impact on the workplace 
    and employers will undoubtedly need support and guidance to respond.

    "Employers will face new challenges - for instance, handling flexible working requests
    fairly and providing training or support to develop the careers of older workers. Having 
    more people working longer means that employers also need to think about the job 
    opportunities and career progression of the rest of the workforce."

    "Age issues should be embedded at the very heart of an organisation's culture, and 
    should not be a box ticking exercise to meet employment legislation."

Notes for editors

  1. Acas' aim is to improve organisations and working life through better employment relations. It provides information, advice, training and a range of services working with employers and employees to prevent or resolve problems and improve performance. Acas is an independent and impartial statutory body governed by a council made up of members from business, trade unions, academia and the law.
  2. Pre claim conciliation was introduced in April 2009 and since then we have helped 38,000 employers and employees avoid the cost, stress and anxiety of an employment tribunal. In 2010 three quarters of potential disputes that qualify for PCC were kept out of the tribunal system.
  3. In 2010 independent research found that when staff time and legal costs are factored in, businesses who resolve disputes through Acas pre-claim conciliation service save £3,700 on average, compared to costs involved once an employment tribunal claim has been made. And employees save on average nearly £1,300 when resolving a PCC case compared with dealing with an employment tribunal claim.

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