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What changed in the UK worker brain between 2021 and 2023?

This is a modified section from Workable's comprehensive new survey report on the Great Discontent in 2023 in the United Kingdom. Visit here to see the report in full.

Keith MacKenzie
Keith MacKenzie

Passionate about human resources, employment, and business management, and an expert at sharing that expertise.

What are UK workers interested in right now when it comes to jobs? This time, we have data for you on what’s shifted most in the UK worker mindset from 2021 to 2023.

What do UK workers want now?

Our Great Discontent 2.0 survey report contains a wealth of data revealing how employee priorities in the UK have changed since 2021. Learn more here.

View the report highlights

Top 3 takeaways

  1. People really like clarity when it comes to what they’re expected to do at work, but don’t need the support nearly as much as two years earlier
  2. Remote work is on the downswing
  3. Workers are increasingly looking for jobs where they can make more money – and not have to commute

Understanding the worker mindset in the UK is one thing – it’s even more compelling when we have data from two different years so we can look at what’s trending upwards and what’s trending downwards in what’s important to UK workers in a job.

And we have a lot of that information for you on hand. Our Great Discontent survey series is in its second edition, which gives us this opportunity to see what’s changing (or evolving?) in job priorities from 2021 to 2023.

In Hamlet, Claudius said: “”When sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions.” A bit grim, yes, but the underlying point is that when things happen, they happen in bunches. And would it be a stretch to apply that thinking to today’s workplace which has been shaped drastically by the COVID-19 pandemic? Probably not.

In other words, the amount of changes that have happened in the span of two short years between 2021 and 2023 probably is more than what’s happened in the decades preceding that.

So, what are the biggest shifts that happened in our dataset in that two-year span? Let’s first start with the biggest upward shifts. Tops is clarity of job role and responsibilities for workers in their current jobs – which nearly doubled from 17.7% to 31.1%. Clearly (and yes, we use that word deliberately), workers in the UK want more clarity in what’s expected of them right now.

Closely following in terms of raw increase is a 12.9-point upward change from 53.5% to 66.4% for active jobhunters saying their main motivation is that they need to make more money.

We’ve talked a lot about the benefits of remote work and how those have crystallized after years of experience – one of the biggest positive shifts in our dataset is, in fact, the benefits of extra hours saved from not needing to commute. That’s gone up from 41.3% to 52% of UK workers citing that as one of the major reasons they like remote work.

Meanwhile, there are some significant downward shifts as well. Tops in that list is the percentage of workers working remotely in 2023. It was well more than half (55.2%) of UK workers in 2021 – that’s now gone down to two out of five workers (40.9%). Not surprising considering we were still in the thick of COVID at the time, and the barriers to in-person work have all but disappeared since.

That doesn’t mean the return to the in-person workspace is a willing change though – the WFH vs. RTO debate continues to rage on.

Meanwhile, the need for support in their current jobs went down drastically in the two-year span, from more than two in five workers (21.9%) in 2021 to less than one in 10 (8.9%) now. Again, the pandemic factors into this – support is no longer as crucial as it was when uncertainty and volatility in the working and living environments were high.

Things are different and more stable now, of course. It’s worth coming back to this in 2025 to see where we go from here.

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