Jobs market picking up but working trends on the change

Almost one in three of private sector employers are planning on taking on new staff before the year's end, indicating that the jobs market may be embarking on a sustained recovery.

However, the nature of some of those jobs is undergoing a gradual shift from traditional working practices to a more flexible approach.

Those are the findings of the latest employment trends survey carried out by the CBI in partnership with recruitment specialists Harvey Nash.

The survey covered some 335 employers with a collective workforce of 3.5 million.

It found that 29 per cent of respondents hope to take on full-time staff during the next six months. A quarter (26 per cent) expect no change in their level of recruitment.

Openings for temporary staff are increasing modestly with a balance of +7 per cent of firms anticipating recruitment compared with those expecting a reduction in their workforces.

Job prospects look to be brightening for graduates, with the overall balance between firms expecting higher and lower graduate recruitment at +9 per cent. The jobs outlook for high skilled workers and temps is also on the up.

Wages, though, are set to remain under pressure. Nearly a third of firms (31 per cent) are planning general pay increases below the RPI rate of inflation, with just 20 per cent aiming to match rises in the cost of living and 4 per cent intending to award pay deals at levels above inflation.

More than a half of employers (57 per cent) warned that unrealistic expectations for reward packages could be a barrier to hiring employees from the public sector.

Perhaps the most striking finding in the survey is that ever growing numbers of employers are happy to move away from the traditional 9-5 working day.

Developments in modern technology have encouraged employers to adopt remote or teleworking practices and flexible work patterns.

Nearly all of the employers (96 per cent) surveyed offer at least one form of flexible working, and 70 per cent offer three or more types. This includes part-time working, flexi- and term-time working, as well as job sharing.

Firms cite a range of positive spin-offs from such an adaptable approach: improved employee relations (74 per cent), boosting recruitment and retention (61 per cent), improved productivity (37 per cent) and lower absence rates (38 per cent).

Organisations recognise, too, that giving the employee more control over their working hours helps businesses achieve carbon-reduction targets by cutting down on commuting hours.

Some 59 per cent of employers are offering teleworking to staff in 2011, compared with 46 per cent in 2008 and 14 per cent in 2006.

Despite the majority of firms being very positive about current flexible working arrangements, employers are, nevertheless, wary about plans to extend the right to request to all staff.

The report painted a reasonably hopeful picture of employer/employee relations too.

Over two-thirds (68 per cent) of all employers regard the relations climate in their firms or organisations as co-operative or very co-operative.

Levels of morale across all companies remains relatively buoyant, with 41 per cent of employers describing it as high or very high, but only 15 per cent as low.

As many as 76 per cent of non-unionised businesses think that employee relations are co-operative or very co-operative; 58 per cent of firms which recognise a trade union for collective bargaining believe the same.

Only one in ten employers are predicting an adversarial climate in the coming the year, while nearly all employers (99 per cent) report using at least some regular mechanism for communicating with staff, including staff meetings, briefings by team leaders and email updates.

John Cridland, the CBI's director general, commented on the findings: "The pay and recruitment freezes that were commonplace in the private sector during the depths of the recession have now migrated to the public sector. However, we remain confident that private sector growth can more than compensate for job losses in the public sector.

"With the recovery in its early stages and inflationary pressures a worry, employers are having to take tough decisions on pay. Only a quarter of employers can afford to make an award in line with inflation. Most are trying to strike a fair balance by offering either modest awards or targeting pay rises on essential staff. As a result, we are seeing very little in the way of wage inflation in the economy.

"Flexible working has been a success story, but firms are still wary about the Government's plans to extend the right to request to everyone. Companies are most concerned about having to choose between competing requests. The Government must provide clear guidance to help employers balance requests fairly."