Irish Workforce
Hopes and Fears
Survey 2022

With the 'great resignation' and 'quiet quitting' an ongoing concern, it is unsurprising that power is a central theme in the findings of this year's Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey, Irish Report 2022.

A wake-up call for Irish leaders

Workers who feel empowered by their current circumstances (i.e. those with specialised or scarce skills) are ready to test the market. Over six in 10 Irish respondents plan to ask for a raise in the coming year, and one in five said they are extremely or very likely to switch employers. Retaining these employees will require more than just pay, however. Fulfilling work and the opportunity to be one's authentic self at work also matter to employees considering a job change.

Our results also show that sensitive political and social discussions—topics that themselves hinge on issues of power and its distribution—are happening in the workplace, largely without company involvement, and are having a positive impact on employees.

Meanwhile, workers want more support in translating environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations to their work. And as Irish leaders develop hybrid work models, they need to consider the 52% that can't work remotely, as they are far less likely than others to find their job fulfilling.

The upshot for the C-suite? As companies take on ambitious business and societal goals, leaders must remember that employees can be a force multiplier or a detractor. In fact, PwC research has found that the workforce is the number one risk to growth—and also the principal means by which companies can execute growth-driven strategies.

Understanding workplace power in all its aspects can help leaders energise their workforce, tap into the power of their people and accomplish bolder goals.

Politics and social issues: Conversations at work aren't polarising—they're a net positive

Like it or not, these conversations are happening

Companies operate in an increasingly polarised world where political and social issues hold intense power over people. Some managers may fear that discussing these topics in the workplace could create a minefield. But 63% of employees in our survey said they have these kinds of conversations frequently or sometimes.

The benefits outweigh the drawbacks

Conversations about sensitive political and social issues aren't the divisive, polarising distraction that managers might fear. Among respondents who have political and social conversations at work, the positives—a better understanding of colleagues, a more open and inclusive work environment and increased empathy—outweigh the negatives.

These discussions are happening despite little active effort on the part of organisations to facilitate them. Only 24% of Irish employees said their company provides support to help them work effectively with people who share different views. This is a missed opportunity given the importance of empathy and openness in building trust.

Supporting and encouraging sensitive conversations isn't easy. However, leaders can make progress by establishing norms, offering resources and helping ensure that these conversations happen in safe, no-judgement environments. These environments should emphasise listening—not reaching solutions or generating consensus—and thus represent growth opportunities for senior executives as well, who are often much more comfortable in problem-solving mode. The leader's role here is to help the company bring meaning, humanity and social impact to the workforce—not to deliver answers.

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Two measures of empowerment: specialisation and scarcity

Employees with specialised training are in demand—and they know it

What makes a worker feel empowered? Specialised training is one element. Among respondents, almost half said their job requires some level of specialist training.

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Skills shortages give employees more clout

A second aspect of worker empowerment is having scarce skills. According to 24% of respondents, Ireland lacks people with the skills needed to perform their job.

Companies are investing in their people—but not enough

To close the skills gap, companies are investing in their workforce through upskilling, increasing wages for existing staff and hiring qualified workers from overseas to supplement their workforce. By contrast, automation and outsourcing are lower priorities for Irish employers. But in absolute terms, the share of companies taking these steps is still low. Only 37% of employees said that their company is upskilling and only 16% said that their employer is automating or enhancing work through technology. Both numbers are low enough to imply considerable room for improvement.

The same holds true for supporting workers' physical and mental well-being—a critical issue given the mental health crisis now affecting so many workers in Ireland. It is discouraging, then, that in Ireland only 21% of employees cited well-being support as a way in which companies address skills and labour shortages. Given the scope of the mental health challenges facing workers, this suggests that companies could do much more to support worker well-being.

Technology: existential threat or upskilling opportunity?

Only 27% of Irish respondents are concerned about their role being replaced by technology in the next three years. Meanwhile, 38% are concerned about not getting sufficient training in digital and technology skills from their employer.

However, generational differences appear here. 46% of Gen Z respondents are concerned about their role being replaced by technology, compared to only 21% of Gen X respondents. Employers therefore need to empower their staff across all generations to be comfortable with technology and appreciate its potential while dispelling any undue fears of workplace replacement by technology.

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Retention strategies: meaning is as important as money

Pay is necessary, but insufficient

When it comes to retaining employees, money remains the top factor. That's understandable given the historic increases in inflation that occurred while our survey was in the field and that are projected by many economists for the year ahead.

In Ireland, however, only half of respondents feel that they are in some way fairly rewarded for their work—slightly lower than the global average. Men are more likely to feel that they are fairly rewarded than their female counterparts.

In Ireland, four out of ten respondents said that their household could pay bills every month and have money left over for savings, holidays and extras. This is 7% less than the global response rate. However, Irish respondents were also 9% more likely to say that they could pay bills every month, but had little or nothing left over for discretionary spending compared to global responses.

This is reflective of the ongoing financial situation in Ireland, and perhaps reflective of the housing crisis in Ireland at the time of writing. These sentiments are felt more strongly by the female respondents who self-reported having less discretionary money than men, and highlight further the importance of D&I in reward and HR practices.

Understanding the four forces shaping your workforce strategy

Company leaders must contend with a wide range of disruptions including inflation, the pandemic and fast-moving geopolitical and social crises—all of which have profound consequences on their workers and their workforce strategy.

Senior managers need a systematic way to think about these disruptions in order to plan for them in the short- and long-term. To ground leaders' thinking, PwC developed a framework to help leaders understand the main disruptions that have shaped workforces throughout history and that are—as the Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey results show—highly relevant today: specialisation, scarcity, rivalry and humanity. Read more about the four forces.

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In societal goals, transparency is everything

Employees want companies to take a stand

Employees are demanding that companies look beyond financial performance to broader ESG considerations—particularly regarding transparency.

In contrast to the support received, the vast majority of employees agreed that transparency from their employer around ESG is very important to them. The main area of importance was transparency around the organisation's record on protecting worker health and safety, which may be as a result of recent societal and political events (such as COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine, for example).

Employer transparency on their organisation's impact on the economy, the climate and D&I in the workforce were all seen as extremely important also. When asked about their confidence in their employer being transparent in all of these issues, most workers displayed some degree of confidence. Senior management were far more likely to have higher levels of confidence in this transparency, potentially due to conversations they have been directly or indirectly exposed to.

Environmental considerations don't factor into employees' day-to-day work—yet

Only 18% of Irish employees said their company helps them minimise the environmental impact of their job. This is 5% less than the low global average of 23%. Interestingly, when management layers are compared, senior executives report feeling 20% more support in relation to the environmental impact than their 'below management' colleagues.

The lack of clarity about environmental issues for under management grade in particular likely stems from a corresponding lack of communication from managers. Most companies are taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint and many are making net zero pledges, but such measures can feel theoretical and abstract to frontline employees.

The challenge for managers is to make environmental issues immediate and actionable by identifying specific behavioural changes that employees can make.

Part of the solution lies in stronger and wider disclosures and communication about the environmental measures companies already have in place—and then improving their performance and increasing their disclosures over time. In doing so, leaders can use transparency to build trust within their workforce.

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Hybrid work: meet employees in the middle

Don't overlook the employees who can't work remotely

It's worth reminding senior executives as well as policy-makers that a significant share of the global workforce can't work remotely. This group—52% of the respondents in our survey—report less satisfaction with their job than those working in hybrid or fully remote work settings. Companies need to consider the role these in-person employees play in overall community responses to the pandemic and in delivering the organisation's broader social responsibility mandate. After all, these employees often play a critical role in society, providing services that cannot be provided remotely.

Flexible approaches resonate with the workforce

Employees have mixed beliefs about whether their employer will provide work options they like in the coming year.

52% of Irish respondents would prefer some mix of in-person and remote work while 64% expect their company to offer that kind of approach in the next 12 months.

In other words, hybrid work is here to stay. The precise ratio of office time and at-home time will vary, but companies need to experiment and adapt. That includes addressing the factors that drive retention risk—including authenticity, meaningful work and pay transparency—all of which become harder when employees aren't in the same location every day. Companies also must invest in technology to support remote work and put the right governance in place for decisions regarding pay, promotions and other rewards in order to fight 'proximity bias'.

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Snapshot of the 18-24 year-old employee

Finally, the data leads to a profile of younger workers and how they differ from the overall respondent base. Notably, many of these employees joined the workforce during the pandemic, so they've had fewer in-person interactions with colleagues and managers, and their perspective has been shaped by that experience.

Specifically, Irish employees ages 18-24 are:

  • more concerned about being overlooked for opportunities
  • more concerned about the impact of technology on their jobs over the next three years
  • less satisfied with their job
  • more likely to ask for a raise or promotion
  • more likely to change some aspect of their working life, such as changing working hours or switching employers

This younger generation needs a more proactive and supportive approach to their performance management and career development. Managers and leaders will need to make additional efforts to ensure that this generation feels empowered to speak and articulate their concerns. Otherwise, they risk losing them to a competitor.

The main takeaway for senior leaders

Each organisation and business unit will likely have its own variations on the themes we identified, but companies won't know that unless they start exploring. In other words, they must tailor their workforce strategy to the unique needs of their workers.

Specifically, companies need to gather data on employee sentiment for the topics we've identified, segment people with common attributes into personas and develop prioritised action plans for those groups. Most organisations will need to align their purpose and trust agenda, create the right environment for employees to address social and political issues, commit to pay transparency, double down on inclusion and invest in leadership development to make all this happen. They need to align their workforce strategy to their business strategy and communicate—even over-communicate—their approach to human capital. And critically, they need to track performance over time.

Companies face a range of challenges including geopolitical and economic uncertainty, climate issues, social changes and cyberthreats. In this kind of environment, they will succeed only if their people are fully engaged, motivated and eager to contribute.

We are here to help you

As companies take on ambitious business and societal goals, leaders must remember that employees can be a force multiplier or detractor. Our study has found that the workforce is the number one risk to growth, but can also be the strongest means by which you can execute growth-driven strategies. We are ready to help you as you face the future. Contact us today.

Contact us

Gerard McDonough

Partner, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 87 224 1517

Laoise Mullane

Director, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 87 160 6501

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