More than one in four workers have seen their job role change as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, a survey has found, with alterations including pay cuts and staff being furloughed.
In a poll of 20,489 people, conducted by Haymarket Business Media (HBM), 5,851 respondents (29 per cent) reported their job had either changed or been placed at risk as a result of the pandemic.
The most common change seen to job roles was pay cuts, with 31 per cent of those experiencing a change in their work taking a drop in salary. Similarly, 30 per cent said their role had been furloughed.
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Just over a fifth of those experiencing a job change (22 per cent) said their job was at risk of redundancy, while 18 per cent said they had seen their working hours reduced.
HBM, which publishes trade and business publications including People Management, polled readers across its titles, including workers, business owners and self-employed individuals.
Alex Watson, director and employment lawyer at Fieldfisher, said he had seen businesses take various approaches to changes in demand since restrictions to business and movement came into effect. “Over the past four weeks we have seen many different pay and working hour schemes operated by employers, and the basis behind each policy is often unique to each business,” he said.
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These included organisations that have been rotating furlough between groups of workers, those that have introduced ‘scaled’ pay reductions based on earnings, and others that have deferred elements of pay such as bonuses, he said.
Watson added that while businesses could claim wages back for furloughed workers through the government’s scheme, some had instead chosen to “implement smaller temporary pay reductions across the entire workforce to avoid more dramatic wage reductions through furlough or redundancies".
He added that the furlough scheme was particularly difficult to utilise for employers experiencing a reduction in demand rather than a complete business shutdown, as the scheme does not allow employees on furlough to undertake any work for their organisation.
Despite the measures many companies are taking, the majority of respondents (60 per cent) in the HBM survey said their job status had not changed because of coronavirus.
Of the business leaders who responded to the survey, a third (33 per cent) said they had not introduced and were not considering bringing in any changes to job roles as a result of coronavirus. A quarter (25 per cent) said they had introduced a furlough or subsidy scheme, and a further 14 per cent said they were planning to introduce one.
The types of action taken by employers to change workers’ roles was found to differ by sector. Readers of marketing and PR titles were more likely to experience a temporary pay cut than see their role furloughed. Readers of cyber security and conference and travel titles were more likely to report having been furloughed.
Those sectors most likely to make, or be planning to make, redundancies as opposed to other actions, were found to be wind power and architecture: 42 per cent of architect readers said they were being placed at risk of redundancy, and 33 per cent of readers working in the wind power sector reported this.
In terms of the impact on freelancers across the various sectors, those in the events sector were found to be hardest hit, with 76 per cent reporting at least 50 per cent less work than expected as a result of the virus. Horticulture, and marketing, advertising and media freelancers were next hardest hit, at 51 per cent and 46 per cent reporting at least 50 per cent less work respectively.
Thalis Vlachos, employment law partner at gunnercooke, said business decisions on how to stay afloat and manage workforces during the pandemic were evolving daily. “Two or three weeks ago, people didn't know what they were going to do,” he said. “It's [a question of] making a few decisions on a daily basis for your company which will cause the least amount of disruption.”
Vlachos noted that while many organisations were simply working on getting through the crisis, the upheaval provided an opportunity to consider the long term, too. “If companies have now got more time on their hands, they need to take a step back and take a more strategic review,” he said.
“Once we're out of this, what do we actually do to improve our business, and get some positives out of all this?”
Vlachos suggested the pandemic might highlight areas where some employees’ salaries were too high, or opportunities for more staff to work from home. “We've all got to reconsider how we work – all of us,” he said.