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The great return to work

Jun 30, 2023 | News

The great return to work
Increasing numbers of people are returning to the workforce, three years after the pandemic hit and the world of work was turned upside down.

During lockdowns and beyond, we in the recruitment industry noticed a trend of people leaving their jobs, in some cases through redundancy, but in others, due to a feeling of dissatisfaction and hope for a better life.

And while employment figures still aren’t quite at their pre-pandemic levels, the April 2023 labour market figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that employment is steadily rising.

Last month, the UK employment rate was estimated at 75.8 per cent, 0.2 points higher than the previous three-month period but still 0.8 percentage points lower than before the pandemic.

The UK’s economic inactivity rate, the proportion of people aged between 16 and 64 who are not in work or seeking employment, had been falling in general since records started in 1971, but then it increased during Covid.
However, figures also show that last year, record numbers of people moved out of economic inactivity in the second half of 2022.

So, what could be behind this?

One strong possibility is the cost-of-living crisis, which seems particularly relevant when we look at the ages of people entering or returning to work: those at either end of the employment spectrum.

ONS figures have also revealed that this increase in employment is being largely driven by people in the 16-24 and 50-64-year-old age groups.

In fact, the increase in older people returning to the workforce is so significant, some analysts have even given it its own name – the great unretirement. This phenomenon, experts believe, is due to increasing numbers of older people realising that their pensions don’t stretch as far as they’d originally planned, especially now the cost of daily life has risen so dramatically.

It also forms part of a specific focus on recruiting older workers, spearheaded by the government, along with increased support for childcare.

However, the way we work now also has an impact on employment levels, with part-time workers also driving the uplift.

Increased flexibility, hybrid working and reduced hours all contribute to making the world of work more appealing, especially for those with health concerns, caring commitments or those who simply want a better work-life balance.

Again, ONS figures hold the key to understanding exactly what’s going on. In a report published in May 2022, the organisation found that: “During 2022, the proportion of workers both working at home and at their usual place of work (“hybrid working”) has been rising, while the proportion of those working from home exclusively has fallen.”

It is hard to overestimate the trend for home-working, largely unheard of before the pandemic, has transformed the world of employment, allowing people who were previously unable to work a standard 9-5 in an office the choice of returning to work.

It is great to see that so many people are returning to the workplace, even if their reasons show a concerning trend regarding financial pressures and economic worries.


A flexible, engaged workforce benefits us all – which is exactly why, at Talentheads, we work differently to ensure we maximise the right talent for the businesses we partner with as their internal recruitment team. For us, it is about finding the right candidate for the right role, and our no placement fee approach supports that mission.

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