Has the labour market changed forever?

Labour markets around the world have been undergoing profound changes driven by automation and globalisation. But the COVID-19 pandemic brought truly unprecedented changes to our ways of work. Will the labour market return to its pre-pandemic trends or has the pandemic irrevocably altered the trajectory of labour markets? How will workers and businesses adapt? What are the opportunities for creating new ways of working? Answers to these questions will shape societies and economies for decades to come. 

Below Written by: Eduard Krkoska  


OUBEP’s Autumn Panel event, which took place on the 26th October at the Accenture offices in London, centred on the question: ‘Has the Labour Market changed forever?’ Examining ways in which the future of work might change; and how changes in labour supply, demand and how the labour market operates overall could affect this.

Head of Department Hamish Low acted as moderator, with expert panellists presenting their research, and taking part in a discussion with audience members.

DPhil student and labour economist Eduard Krkoska reports on what he felt stood out from the panellists’ presentations and the resulting discussion:

Anna Thomas – Institute for the Future of Work

“Anna presented data on significant changes in the labour market that occurred before, and throughout, the Covid-19 pandemic… and reminded us that concerns about poor quality gig-economy work, which is generally insecure and lacks clear progression, remains a concern despite being overshadowed in recent years by COVID policies, working from home and, most recently, the conflict in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis.

It was no surprise to see that online and remote work was also on the rise, but concerning to be reminded about pre-existing inequalities, and who are the likely winners and losers of this new way of working.”

David Zentler-Munro – University of Essex

“David highlighted the issue of labour market inactivity post-pandemic, which seems to be driven by older workers; with women retiring earlier and men reporting that sickness is keeping them out of the labour force. This suggests that we need to better understand what drives the labour supply of the elderly in particular; there is a very real possibility that the crisis of pressure on the NHS is exacerbating the issue. David also showed us that the sectors which were hit hardest from COVID are still struggling to recover, which begs the question of how to transition the labour force away from struggling sectors, and what kind of policies, such as retraining schemes, would be effective.”

Peter Lambert – LSE

“Peter presented some fascinating data on the rise of working from home. Employers are increasingly offering this option, and UK households report that they do want to work from home, although there is considerable variance in the preferences of individuals.

One possible outcome of this shift is that workers might move into companies that champion a style of working that they prefer, or perhaps that more companies will opt for a mixed approach. Peter also presented data that showed most job adverts for remote work come from large cities, but remote workers can choose to live anywhere, so it will be interesting to see if the shift towards remote work influences regional inequalities.”



Hamish commented that delocalised labour markets mean that remote jobs can be accessed from all over the country; potentially increasing the bargaining power of workers who now have access to a much larger pool of vacancies. Of course, the converse is also true; that firms have access to a larger pool of applicants. It will be really interesting to see how this affects the wage-bargaining process, bearing in mind also that data suggests workers are generally willing to forfeit some wages in exchange for the ability to work from home.

Questions from the audience opened up some lively discussion, including the observation that there is clearly a significant variation in how productive different people (and different roles) are when working remotely, however preliminary evidence suggests there is no major cause for concern.

It is clear from the evidence presented that there are, potentially permanent, post-pandemic changes in attitudes towards working. For example there has been a significant level of resignation for relatively older workers; whereas younger workers seem to care more about the quality of their job and feeling respected – which is being reflected in ‘quiet quitting’, a term for when workers do not exert quite as much effort as they used to in their main jobs – and are choosing to switch firms.

One of the final discussion points was that of Brexit – arguably one of a number of major policy debates overshadowed by COVID. It is challenging to untangle the effects of Brexit from COVID, and to understand whether some issues stemming from the pandemic perhaps have been exacerbated by Brexit. Perhaps an obvious example is UK labour market inactivity and the high vacancy rate – how many of these vacancies could have been filled by workers from European Union countries if the UK was still a member of the EU? A follow-up question for the future of this debate is perhaps; how might the conflict in Ukraine – specifically spiralling inflation and fairly stagnant wages – also impact the future of the UK labour market?