Searching for balance in a world of work that is in flux

Companies and employees struggling to establish post-Covid working norms against a backdrop of unsettling tech sector job cuts

Last year was a turbulent one for the world of work. Hybrid and flexible working proved much harder to implement than anticipated and bigger organisations in particular struggled to accommodate the often conflicting demands of the business and their workforce.

At the same time the level of worker burnout reached an all-time high while rates of engagement went rapidly in the other direction.

It also became clear that living through a pandemic had made people want more control over where and how they worked and fuelled a desire for better alignment between their personal values and those of the organisations they worked for. If these criteria were not met, they were prepared to walk or quietly quit (do the minimum) while looking for a new job.

As the year progressed a knowledge gap began to open up in many organisations. Informal and tacit learning were the early casualties of remote working. This gap left more experienced (and increasingly disgruntled) workers picking up the slack on top of an already full workload. At the other extreme, also not feeling the love was a sizeable cohort of younger employees who are unhappy about still being denied the support, social life and camaraderie that goes with being in the office.


But perhaps most unsettling of all was the discovery that big tech can’t walk on water. Figures from the Central Statistics Office show an estimated 11,000 jobs were lost in the IT and computer sectors in the three months to the end of September. And the lay-offs are not over yet. Intel, which employs about 5,000 people in Ireland, is planning cost cuts of $3 billion, fuelling fears of more job losses while Salesforce (which employs more than 2,500 people here) is to cut staff by 10 per cent.

In an interview with this paper in December, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was candid when he flagged the likelihood of further cuts. “[It’s] more likely to be thousands than hundreds,” he said. “But bear in mind that’s in the context of about 158,000 people working in the sector. What we’re generally seeing is companies scaling back by 5-15 per cent, with a few exceptions.”

The hit to tech has been universal. Website, which tracks job cuts in tech companies worldwide, estimates that more than 150,000 jobs have gone in the sector over the last 12 months, while the figure for tech lay-offs since Covid began is about 250,000.

But while the tech meltdown has grabbed the headlines, it’s by no means all downbeat on the employment front. Life sciences, medtech and pharma also employ significant numbers here and for those with transferable skills or a willingness to retrain, there are still plenty of opportunities.

Varadkar also indicated that there will be job announcements for the tech sector during 2023, while it’s worth noting that some of the major players, including Microsoft, are still hiring. At the time of writing, there were 22 jobs listed on Microsoft’s Irish site (some for multiple posts) including on-site, hybrid and fully remote positions.

Those monitoring the impact of the tech slowdown believe it’s not all bad news as it may help ease the pressure on rising wage costs and rebalance an economy grown heavily dependent on one sector. In addition, the bursting bubble may have a silver lining for Ireland’s SMEs and start-ups which have always struggled to compete for talent against more “glamorous” multinational employers.

Salaries are still expected to rise this year, however, against a backdrop of cost-of-living increases and talent shortages, according to the 2023 Salary Guide compiled by Matrix recruitment. It says bands will likely expand by between €2,000 and €10,000 across a number of sectors, with significant pay hikes on offer for those in a position to apply for in-demand jobs such as senior/lead fund accountants and supply-chain analysts and managers.

Flexibility and remote working are predicted to remain the most sought-after benefits and Matrix has already seen a rise of almost 35 per cent in the number of roles it is handling that offer hybrid or remote working options.

Flexible working may now be a permanent feature of the world of work, but the debate about its pros and cons rumbles on. On one side are “enlightened” employees. On the other, “dinosaur” managers who “don’t get it”. It’s going to take patience and compromise to bridge the gap.

Large professional firms are known for working their people hard, but it seems they too are struggling to achieve a post-Covid balance. Towards the end of last year, the elite London law firm Slaughter and May ceded some ground to hard-pressed employees, telling them they were not expected to check emails between 10pm and 8am. But there was a caveat. This applied only if they were not working on a case that might require an intervention during the witching hours and they still needed to be available by phone.

According to a 37-point document seen by the Financial Times, the firm’s lawyers are allowed to turn off their cameras on video calls between 8pm and 8am and emails need not be checked more than a couple of times on Friday, Saturday and Sunday unless a case demands it.

“Ultimately, the client comes first,” the FT reports one associate as saying. “We’re a bit like a five-star hotel. We’re very expensive ... [clients know] that if you call room service at 2am for a sundae, you’ll get one.”