Foreword from our chair
For over a year, coronavirus (COVID-19) has been a harsh teacher. In response to the greatest of public health and economic emergencies, we have had to learn new ways to protect lives and livelihoods.
The world of work has changed more in a year than in the previous generation. Tough times, as they often do, brought out the best in people. Bold experiments and new ways of working became everybody's business.
But experiences varied. Millions of employees and employers worked from home, staying safe and connected despite the pandemic. For other workers, however, the consequences were sudden and severe. Those who could not work from home faced new risks in partnership with their employers. Others were furloughed or lost their jobs with all the accompanying anxieties and hardships. As we begin to imagine a world after the pandemic, we must now ask ourselves anew what the world of work could, and should, look like. At Acas, we are committed to playing our part, helping to shape a better world of work.
We have a historic opportunity in this recovery
2021 could mark one of history's great turning points, like the Great Depression or Second World War, when we learn from the challenges of the past and adopt new and better working practices in the future.
The shifts ahead of us are profound. We'll see companies continue to expand the use of automation and digital technology as consumers increasingly go online for shopping, entertainment and even healthcare. The dividends this could produce for all stakeholders are significant but the impact on the workforce could be uneven. Each and every workplace will be compelled to adapt.
Acas can play a vital role
At this time of change, Acas's work is more important than ever. We are committed to improving working life in Britain and supporting our economy – with a specific focus on reducing the cost of conflict in the workplace. Employers often come to us at their most difficult moments, and employees at their lowest ebb. An independent voice at a difficult time, we are here for them both.
While our purpose remains deeply rooted in who we are, the way we achieve our purpose must always respond to a changing world, rethinking both what we do and how we do it.
Our work had already begun
The Acas team have already achieved an enormous amount in the most difficult year in living memory. Our services were called upon in ever higher numbers. In the past year, our online information and advice was accessed 13.2 million times, our helpline answered over 710,000 calls, and we helped nearly 65,000 delegates with our training and webinars. We responded to over 500 requests for help with collective disputes and over 112,000 requests for help with individual disputes. And we helped shape the debate about how to meet the challenges of the labour market head on, publishing 28 papers, hosting 22 briefings and roundtables and making elearning available to over 39,000 people.
This strategy sets out how we will support Britain in the next stage
Our opportunity now is to build on this platform and ensure that we continue to live up to our purpose. In this document, we set out a new strategy – Making Working Life Better for Everyone in Britain – enabling us to achieve this.
We believe the impact of pursuing this strategy will be considerable, leading to fewer disputes and a reduction in the financial and emotional cost of workplace conflict, in fairer and more inclusive workplaces led by engaged and capable leaders. With conflict better channelled, businesses and employees will be able to focus on what they do best: innovating and contributing to an economy that builds back better.
To achieve this, our organisation must be as effective as it can possibly be, delivering even more economic impact than it does already. Guided by this imperative, our new strategy sets out a series of specific ambitions, detailed by our Chief Executive Susan Clews in her executive summary, lighting our path from now until 2025.
Achieving these goals will be a team effort, and I would like to offer my deepest thanks to the Acas Council, our funders and sponsors at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and all our stakeholders for their effort and support in creating this strategy.
We are faced today by a moment of opportunity and challenge, with the chance to determine what future will follow. In this strategy, we set out a vision to make working life better for everyone in Britain. There has never been a better opportunity to do so and, at Acas, we will seize it.
Clare Chapman, Acas Chair
Executive summary from our chief executive
At Acas, our purpose is clear. We exist to make working life better for everyone, by promoting healthy working relationships and addressing disputes and conflict in the workplace. Ideally, we prevent conflict before it arises, through training and advice. Where it cannot be prevented, however, we resolve it, ensuring two-thirds of cases do not reach a costly employment tribunal. It gives me real pride that Acas’s combined efforts ensure that for every £1 of funding we receive, we save £12.
In 2020, the world experienced a level of change unknown in a generation, and when the world changes, the world of work does too. At Acas we recognise that the economic impact of COVID-19 and the recovery, will demand we find new ways to make our services even more relevant, and more effective.
This strategy sets out how we will do so, built around the delivery of 4 ambitions.
Growing our reach and access
By 2025, we will have reached twice as many small and medium sized businesses, and twice as many employees. In doing so, we will have prioritised sectors where issues are more prevalent and union representation is low, and we will have reached customers all over the country.
Resolving disputes more quickly and effectively
By 2025, we will be resolving three out of every four disputes before they reach a costly employment tribunal, as a result of earlier and more effective conciliation and a fuller understanding of all the possible paths to resolution.
Forging consensus on the future of work
By 2025, we will have new approaches to predict and respond to challenges in the world of work, working with partners to shape a better future. We will share our knowledge, data and insight to help us to build healthy work and prosperity for people, places and society.
Embracing difference, increasing inclusion, creating fairness
By 2025, creating fair and inclusive workplaces will be at the heart of everything we do. Our services will be inclusive and accessible to all. We will be promoting diversity and inclusion in Britain's workplaces and our own will reflect the values, and diversity, of modern Britain.
If we are to continue making working life better for everyone in Britain, delivering these ambitions is critical. This document shows how we will do that, setting out our commitments for 2025, and the first steps we will take in 2021.
In the course of the last year, the brilliant team at Acas have achieved so much, making a hugely positive impact on the world of work. They have provided expert information and advice to more people than ever before, in unprecedented times. They have prevented and resolved disputes in the most difficult circumstances imaginable. And they have worked closely with our many partners, as we have responded together to a time of crisis. With this team, these partners, and our new strategy, I know we can make working life better for everyone in Britain, and I'm excited to be getting started.
Susan Clews, Acas Chief Executive
At Acas, we have long been committed to making working life better for everyone in Britain. Conflict in the workplace carries a cost. This cost is financial, but it's emotional too. At Acas, we exist to reduce both.
In a world changed immeasurably by the impact of COVID-19, it's critical that Acas reacts and responds to a changing world. However, in doing so, it's equally important that our organisation is rooted in a sense of purpose: the guiding star that leads us through the challenges, and opportunities, of a new working world.
To deliver our purpose in a manner fit for the world we find ourselves in today, our strategy is built around 4 ambitions. They are the goals we are committing ourselves to, and they are the measure by which our success should be judged in 2025.
1. Growing our reach and access
The situation today: an opportunity to expand our reach
During the pandemic, we took steps to improve access to our online services. We updated our coronavirus advice daily on our website, attracting 3.6 million visitors by the end of March 2020. We produced new webinars, which drew audiences of 5,000 to 7,000 people. Despite shifting entirely to online training and conciliation, satisfaction with our services remained high.
The pandemic also saw us reach more people than ever before. We made appearances on radio, television and in the press, reaching a potential audience of over 50 million people. And we generated interest in our services on social media too, with over 220,000 followers across our platforms by March 2021.
While the pandemic gave us the impetus to grow our reach and access, there is still work to be done. According to a 2020 YouGov survey, we remain better-known amongst older audiences than younger ones, and among larger businesses than small and medium-sized ones. In certain parts of the economy, particularly those less-represented by trade unions, we are not as widely known.
Our challenge now is to build on our achievements during the pandemic, and reach more businesses, more workers and all communities. Whenever and wherever an organisation or individual needs our help, they should know where to find us.
By 2025, we will:
- Reach twice as many people, with the number of web sessions recorded on the Acas website doubling from 9 to 18 million.
- Double the reach of our good practice advice and training services, increasing interactions from 100,000 to 200,000.
- Increase awareness of Acas amongst small and medium-sized businesses from 83% now to 90% by 2025, and amongst individuals from 56% to 60% by 2025.
As first steps in 2021, we will:
- Develop and deliver new products and services that help employees and employers return to fairer, safer and more productive workplaces after the pandemic.
- Develop the channels we need to use to better reach our customers, for instance through more or enhanced digital services.
- Target our guidance, advice and training to small and medium-sized businesses and the people who need us most.
- Build new partnerships, and strengthen existing ones, across Britain, especially in parts of the economy hardest hit by COVID-19.
- Shape our organisation to ensure we have the capability and capacity to deliver the greatest value for money to the taxpayer.
2. Resolving disputes more quickly and effectively
The situation today: rising numbers of costly tribunals
At Acas, we are experts in the prevention of workplace conflict through training and advice. Where conflict cannot be prevented, however, we resolve it, saving both employers and employees from the financial and emotional costs of conflict. We work to prevent and resolve individual disputes, between employer and employee, and collective disputes, between an employer and a group of employees.
Where there are collective disputes, we intervene with the intention of resolving conflict before it escalates into industrial action. In the case of individual disputes, we aim to prevent them from reaching an employment tribunal.
While in some cases a tribunal plays a critical role, perhaps because a dispute simply cannot be resolved in any other way or because the issues being considered have implications wider than the dispute itself, avoidable tribunals inflict a heavy cost on all who take part. This cost can be financial, paid for by employees, businesses, and the taxpayer. It can also be emotional, particularly for individual employees – a cost that may be harder to quantify than a financial penalty but is no less damaging.
Whenever an individual wishes to take a dispute to an employment tribunal, they must first come to Acas for conciliation. It is our responsibility to take steps to resolve a dispute before reaching an employment tribunal. We do this by offering both parties free and impartial dispute resolution services to settle the dispute quickly and effectively.
As businesses emerge from the COVID-19 crisis and new working arrangements take shape there will be situations where conflicts arise. Our skilful resolution of disputes will be more important than ever before, we therefore aim to increase the proportion that we resolve before a tribunal is required.
By 2025, we will:
- Increase to 75% the proportion of disputes we resolve at an early stage, before an employment tribunal application is made, so that fewer businesses and fewer people enter the formal legal process.
- Increase to 75% the proportion of disputes we resolve after an employment tribunal application is made, so that formal legal processes are shortened and the need for a hearing is avoided.
- Maintain our resolution rate for collective disputes to at least 85% and be more responsive in sectors where issues are prevalent, and representation is low.
As first steps in 2021, we will:
- Explore how new technology can help us to improve the service we offer to customers.
- Look at how we handle disputes and adapt what we do now so that we deliver the best service to customers.
- Explore with our partners fresh approaches to dispute resolution, seeking to identify new paths to earlier resolution of disputes and conflicts.
- Launch new evidence on the cost of conflict to employers in Britain.
3. Forging consensus on the future of work
The situation today: the new demands of a changing world of work
We have been at the forefront of the national conversation on the changing workplace for decades. To do so, we work closely with others, including business and governments: local, devolved, and national. In particular, we work in partnership with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, our sponsor department.
Our partnerships, however, are not limited to the government. We also work with business groups, trade unions, charities, community groups, academics, and others with a stake in the future of work. Our aim is to learn from new ideas and to forge consensus.
Today, this is needed more than ever, because the world of work is changing at considerable pace. If we do not change with it, we risk being left behind. We rose to the challenge of the pandemic, working collectively towards a shared ambition. We will continue that spirit of collaboration, and we'll forge consensus on the biggest challenges facing work and working lives in order to support economic growth, promote productivity and wellbeing, and raise work standards.
We will engage with our partners across the nations of Great Britain to achieve these goals, sharing our knowledge and expertise and using our insight to promote dialogue and create an authoritative and influential voice for Acas.
Together with our partners, we can forge consensus on the future of work.
By 2025, we will:
- Be an established and authoritative source of information and insight into work and the labour market, providing trusted information from Acas and others that influences the debate, and informs understanding and practice. This will ensure Acas's place as an evidential authority on work and workplace relations and a place that holds knowledge and insight on what works.
- Be a leading source of fresh-thinking, new approaches and good practice on conflict at work.
- Be the convening place that brings together partners to develop creative solutions to the biggest work challenges, and raises standards for a better world of work.
- Be the leading authority on shaping and informing government policy agendas so they benefit from Acas's real-world insight and expertise.
As first steps in 2021, we will:
- Launch new evidence on the cost of conflict to employers, engaging others in the importance of improving the management of conflict.
- Create a plan to implement our data strategy and grow our data and insights capability.
- Convene our external partners to develop policies and anticipate new trends in the workplace.
- Develop guidance for workplaces that supports a safe and productive return to work after the pandemic.
4. Embracing difference, increasing inclusion, creating fairness
The situation today: work still to do to represent all of Britain
More diverse and inclusive workplaces are better workplaces, as illustrated in the landmark McKinsey studies of 2015 and 2017. These showed that diverse businesses are better, more successful, and more innovative than their competitors. The greater the variety of perspectives and experiences, the better a company's decision-making will be.
At Acas, we are experts in promoting diversity and inclusion outside our organisation through our training and advice. This helps the businesses we serve become more productive, harmonious and effective. This will be particularly important as we do our bit to ensure that the build back after COVID-19 is fair and inclusive. These values are important inside Acas too because they make us more reflective of the customers we serve, and so more effective in the services we provide.
But we want to do more. More to promote diversity and inclusion and more to make sure that our services are accessible for everyone who needs us. And we will take steps to improve diversity and inclusion within our own organisation, so that we set the example we advocate others follow. To help us become better, we have taken steps to improve our inclusivity, but we know there is more we can do to reflect within Acas the full diversity of the economically active population.
By 2025, we will:
- Influence the state of equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace, through our services and in partnership with organisations across Britain.
- Provide services that are accessible and effective for those who need to use them, irrespective of place, sector, and individual circumstances.
- Be an organisation that fully reflects the diversity of the communities that we serve.
As first steps in 2021, we will:
- Map our customer journeys and profiles so that we understand our customers and can improve accessibility and inclusivity of services.
- Improve the accessibility of our biggest channel, our website, so that as many people as possible can access our information and advice online.
- Establish partnerships nationally and regionally which support levelling up and allow us to influence equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
- Develop a plan of work to become a lead body in promoting the best practical solutions to creating truly inclusive workplaces and working practices.
- We will forge ahead with implementation of our internal people strategy, focusing on our race action plan, declaration rates and positive action to make sure that we grow the diversity and harness the potential of staff across Acas.
A better world of work
In this new strategy, we have set out an ambitious agenda. It is ambitious by necessity. The working world is changing rapidly and dramatically. To ensure that the world after the pandemic is a better place to work, we must all be prepared to change and improve. This new strategy sets out a platform for how Acas will lead this change.
It is a strategy that shows how we will pursue a purpose that is decades old: to make working life better for everyone in Britain. But it is a strategy that commits us to finding new ways to do so, fit for the world after COVID-19 and the challenges that lie ahead of us.
Acas already operates with great efficiency, returning taxpayers' investment twelve times over. But there are always opportunities to improve, and it demands that Acas becomes even more efficient and effective than it has ever been before.
For that reason, this strategy commits us to:
- growing our reach
- resolving disputes more effectively
- helping to forge consensus on the future of work
- promoting fairness in all workplaces
We believe doing so is of great importance. Harmonious workplaces are better and more productive. Fairer workplaces embrace the best of all the available talent. Better workplaces make for better businesses, able to focus on what they do best: solving problems, creating new economic opportunity, and helping Britain build a better future.
We know, however, that we can achieve little alone. The partnerships upon which Acas is built are deep and firm. Achieving the ambitions that we have set in this strategy relies on the support of partners across all sectors, and with government at the local, devolved and national level.
Together, we can, and will, make working life better in the decade that follows the hardest year in living memory.