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Consumer trends 2022: People, employment and the global landscape

11 January 2022

Consumer businesses have faced an incredibly challenging period.  With supply and demand fluctuating with the pandemic they have had to adapt their business and workforce at an unprecedented speed.  

So what are the key people and employment trends impacting consumer businesses?

Getting the right people in the right place with the right skills

As businesses plan for 2022 and beyond, a key focus will not only be labour supply, but also servicing changing customer habits and fluctuating colleague attendance. Workforce planning is a top priority as consumer businesses tackle changeable and challenging supply and demand, increased sickness absence, periods of isolation and restructuring in light of the pandemic. Businesses are having to adapt to service the increased demand for online channels, click and collect provisions and other new technologies.

With a global labour shortage, and COVID highlighting the need for fluidity and flexibility, it is important for consumer businesses to engage with their workforce to ensure everyone feels equipped, – including having the right skills, supported and able to navigate the challenges ahead.    

The culmination of factors impacting the retail, food & hospitality sector has resulted in a war on talent meaning that creating a foundation of trust within the workforce is more important than ever and renewed and revised focus is required to inspire loyalty, retain colleagues and facilitate recruitment.

The employment status challenge

As businesses tackle the labour supply shortage, greater use is being made of "gig economy" workers, particularly to service the notoriously difficult last mile delivery.  A flexible workforce which can scale up and down with demand is an obvious solution to the current retail and hospitality climate – particularly during peak periods such as the holiday season, however consumer businesses will need to keep the employment status of this group front of mind, particularly following some significant Court decisions such as the Uber case in the UK.  

With the "gig economy" growing in momentum in recent years, legal challenges have been launched across the globe questioning what employment protection these workers are entitled to. Employees are entitled to much more employment protection than self-employed contractors. Some jurisdictions have a third employment status category, namely the "worker" which falls into the middle bracket when it comes to employment rights. 

In order to minimise risk it is important for businesses to assess the employment status of these individuals and to have a clear view of what employment protection is available and how this sits with the business model and particularly control over that model that is required. 

Diversity and inclusion is more important than ever

The growing momentum of ESG, as well as movements such as Me Too and Black Lives Matter have helped to give these topics the focus that they deserve across business and this will be a continuing theme into 2022. Through 2021,the pandemic has had and looking forward, it appears will continue to have, a disproportionate impact not only across the globe but also to people with different protected characteristics (for example, people with certain disabilities and people who are pregnant).  Fostering a supportive and dynamic culture is key and consumer businesses in particular will be judged on the action they take now to support and protect their employees and customers.

There has been an increase in reports of bullying and harassment within the retail and hospitality environments. The workforce has faced immense pressure - from the difficult task of policing mask wearing inside stores and venues, to the challenges of managing staff shortages, having to adapt to the changing environment, coping with anxiety over the virus itself in a high contact space, and revised consumer expectations. 

With added pressure and anxiety, the potential for bullying and harassment is heightened. It is essential for leaders to drive a positive culture, reminding employees of the expected standard, calling out inappropriate behaviour and allowing a safe space for colleagues to speak up.

COVID-19 related employment claims

With a focus on employee relations and fostering a positive workplace culture, the aim is to minimise the risk of employment claims. However, considering the turbulent time consumer businesses have faced, it is inevitable that we will see an increase in claims in 2022. Given the potential for retail and hospitality businesses in particular to need to restructure - possible large scale redundancies and grappling with emergency government support, we can expect claims to follow. We have already seen and we are likely to see more discrimination claims, including long-COVID, disability-related claims and mandatory vaccination disputes.

Consumer businesses are also likely to face action in relation to health and safety concerns, including whistleblowing claims. Workplaces had to adapt to become COVID-secure in very tight timescales and are continually having to adjust in line with the latest restrictions. COVID-related issues such as lack of PPE, social distancing and fraud in relation to the government support offered are just some of the issues being reported to whistleblowing advice services.  The overall objective for any business must be that its people feel able to speak up if they are concerned about wrongdoing, safe in the knowledge that the concerns will be taken seriously and they will not be ignored, side-lined or dismissed.

Culture is key

The fundamental message is that workplace culture is absolutely key. Creating a safe and inclusive environment, built on trust and authenticity, will undoubtedly put your business in a strong position and will help minimise risk. As always, the employment landscape is evolving and as such consumer businesses will need to continue to be dynamic and able to diversify. Businesses which are able to motivate, support and unify the workforce to navigate the journey together will triumph.

If you have any questions or would like more information about how we can support you and your business please get in touch

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