Where does the boss-worker power struggle go next?

Greater flexibility has taken root in several sectors, as evidenced by the language used in job postings on both sides of the Atlantic, according to Kristie McAlpine, assistant professor of management at Rutgers University, USA . This suggests that while some companies are trying to scale back on hybrid, they don’t want to yell at it. Others, like the investment bank Goldman Sachs, which took a harder approach to flexibility but salary increasewill not be able to turn around on these higher salaries.

Freedman thinks companies in industries where there is competition for talent will still need to focus on what they offer to ensure they can attract and retain people. There will of course be companies that will have to “tighten their belts”, but those that are successful will “do it thoughtfully” in a way that takes into account the needs of employees.

However, workers whose skills are in less demand or who are less advanced in their careers may find themselves more at the mercy of employers’ demands. If history is any guide, previous recessions have been particularly painful for young workers, handing all the power back to the bosses, warns Duffy. “It’s bulletproof, I’m afraid – young workers are always the first and hardest hit. This was confirmed not only during the credit crisis in 2008, but also recently during the pandemic.

For younger and less skilled workers, this will mean that good jobs will be harder to find. Nor will they be able to negotiate their working conditions so harshly; promotions or bonuses may disappear, says Bert Colijn, senior economist at ING Bank. He warns this could leave existing recruits around for a few years – with bosses keeping them on the payroll but largely sidelined, with no investment in training.

A more precarious labor market, combined with an acute crisis in the cost of living, can also influence the behavior of young workers as they dig to keep their jobs. Wendy Patrick, senior lecturer in business law at San Diego State University, expects more young workers to head to the office, rather than working from home, because there “they can cultivate the chemistry and the contacts with the superiors, who will want to keep them once the recession hits”.

All of this means that while the power certainly rests with employers in general, the results will not be equal. Some workers will be able to retain the flexibility and terms they have gained during the pandemic, while others may have to settle for whatever employers want to give them.

“A recession will likely deepen more inequality, where the highest earning workers won’t face huge layoffs and instead have more flexibility,” Lordan says, “while traditional, lower-paying roles might be rendered redundant. “.

Additional reporting by Angela Henshall

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