Workday Research: European Employees Seek New Skills and Opportunities in a Post-Pandemic World

A survey of 17,000 workers in nine European markets reveals interesting insights about how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted their careers. Learn what they said, and how organisations can take steps to improve the employee experience.

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The pandemic’s impact on workplaces across Europe—including an abrupt shift to working from home—and the continuing adoption of automation and new workplace technologies have given employees and their employers a great deal to consider as they build for the future. 

New research from Workday, in partnership with Yonder, reveals that European workers are prioritising skills development and new opportunities as they seek to bounce back from the pandemic and bolster their career growth. The research, “The Employee Outlook: Understanding Employee Sentiment and Priorities Across Europe,” surveyed over 17,000 workers in nine European markets to better understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their careers.

Employees’ priorities aren’t surprising. Our research found that almost half of all workers aged 18–34 feel opportunities to gain new responsibilities and skills were reduced in 2020. In Italy, Spain, and the UK, almost half feel they have lost out on career-defining opportunities. Germany fared a bit better, with one-quarter of respondents saying their careers have experienced the same negative impact. 

All of this is against a backdrop of the pandemic’s impact on the job market. As an example, in the second quarter of 2020, the pandemic led to the sharpest contraction on record of employment and total hours worked in the European labour market. There were 5.2 million fewer people employed in that quarter than at the end of 2019, a fall of 3.2%. And while the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions in Europe will slowly see rising employment levels, as they did following the 2008 financial crisis, attention has now turned to the future workforce to ensure both businesses and their employees are not left behind.

Employees Keep Options Open—Despite Trust in Leadership

In this challenging jobs market, not all unemployed respondents intend to be proactive in their search. One in four respondents plan to re-enter the job market in the next 12 months, and are looking for opportunities with better career development, a more interesting role, and an improved salary. 

In a separate report, McKinsey authors state that, “the COVID-19 crisis ended years of strong employment growth marked by greater mobility. The crisis put up to 59 million European jobs, or 26% of the total, at risk in the short term, through reductions in hours or pay, furloughs, and permanent layoffs.”

Just three in 10 respondents to our survey believe they will receive a pay raise in the next year. Those in Italy and Spain are the least hopeful with only 23% and 18%, respectively, believing they will be in line for a salary increase. Yet in Sweden, over half of respondents believe their salary will rise. Across all countries, a competitive salary is the most motivating factor when workers search for new roles, with 54% of respondents saying they would not be willing to reduce their salary for more flexible working conditions. 

Employees’ willingness to consider other opportunities comes despite an apparent trust in their leaders. To benchmark employees’ perceptions of the performance of their leaders, the research team conducted a factor analysis. Using data collected from 13 agreement statements, they were able to unite these different attributes into one metric—the Leadership Index Score—which measures how employees feel about the performance of their leadership team. It showed leaders in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the UK were viewed more favourably by employees than other European countries covered in the survey.

In countries where leadership performance was above average (Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the UK), employees were more likely to understand the role they play in the future of the organisation (65%, 64%, 63%, and 62%, respectively). Leaders in the UK and the Netherlands were rated the most empathetic by their employees (64% and 63%, respectively), while leaders in Germany (53%), the Netherlands (55%), and Switzerland (54%) were considered the best at managing change.

Despite the concerns raised, the research paints a largely positive picture of how European organisations have adjusted to the dramatic shift in working patterns.

Home, Office, or Hybrid: Motivating Tomorrow’s Workforce

Despite the concerns raised, the research does paint a largely positive picture of how organisations across Europe have adjusted to the dramatic shift in working patterns related to the pandemic. Despite the majority of employees (68%) reporting they rarely, if ever, worked from home before 2020, over half (56%) claim to be less stressed and more productive working from home in 2020. 

As employers weigh up the risk versus reward of home, office, or hybrid working models, there is clearly work to do in supporting a remote workforce. Although 84% of respondents stated they can access the information they need outside the office, and 67% believe they have been provided with enough support while working from home, 66% said they were not shown how to work from home effectively.

Motivation is another key element to be considered, with almost half of all employees reporting they have found it challenging to motivate themselves while working from home. This seems to be driven by factors including a lack of contact and interaction with colleagues (27%) and missing their colleagues (21%). Interestingly, a recent Microsoft study, “The New Future of Work,” found that employees at home are more likely to contact current team members but less likely to get in touch with new ones, potentially limiting the success and integration of new employees.

Regionality is also a factor. Those living in the Netherlands are most likely to feel satisfied, productive, and motivated. They also report lower levels of tiredness, along with their German counterparts. 

Focus on Employee Engagement

Organisations and workers are entering a new world. Our report suggests that a hybrid model will see employees continue to work remotely, and that means businesses must adapt. Everyone's experience of working from home over the last year will have been different, based on their unique circumstances. Therefore, each employee’s expectation of their employers, and their priorities coming back into the workplace, will be very different, too. It's never been more important to understand employees at an individual level and to provide experiences that are deeply personalised.

This means businesses must smash down any cultural and technological barriers that prevent workers from performing their usual tasks outside the office. It also means they must rethink how they approach employee engagement and developing their workforce. Workers have made it very clear—skills development and new opportunities are crucial in a post-pandemic world, and organisations that help them achieve these goals will attract and retain the best talent.

As location becomes a less important factor with a hybrid model, businesses will have a wider pool of talent to pick from. Yet this only exacerbates the need for better technology tools and processes to engage employees and ensure they’re not missing out on the new skills and career development they deserve.

Read the full report and find out more about how European employee sentiments towards work are changing in the post-pandemic world.

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