WHEN can a forecast of three million people unemployed be seen as good news? Well, I guess when the previous forecast was for 3.25m.
The CBI has just released its latest economic forecasts and has reduced its estimated peak unemployment figure, expected to be reached in the second quarter of 2010.
At 9.6% of the working age population there is no way that this could ever be described as a success but, if accurate, there will be a quarter of a million people spared the devastation of losing their job.
The CBI first published its Employment Trends survey 11 years ago in the second year of a Labour government with an ambitious agenda for employment policy. The subsequent decade has seen significant changes in the workplace and labour market - new workplace rights, increased flexible working and progress on diversity to give a few examples.
But none of the annual surveys have marked such pronounced changes in outlook as this year. The recession has presented many employers with unprecedented challenges and they have had to make some difficult decisions. But while the downturn has inevitably caused rising unemployment and has impacted on recruitment, training and pay, what is striking and encouraging is the extent to which organisations and their employees have shown flexibility and adaptability to achieve cost savings while preserving jobs wherever possible.
So what are some of the ways in which firms have tried to reduce employment costs to match re-ducedemand? Well the majority of employers tell me that they have implemented or are planning a pay freeze for the current pay round, with most of the remainder expecting only a modest increase.
And at a time of negligible inflation there is very little challenge to this decision in most cases. The freezing of pay is most prevalent, unsurprisingly, in the sectors most immediately affected by the recession - construction, manufacturing, retail and professional services.
And around two-thirds of employers are also operating a recruitment freeze across the whole or part of their organisation.
But the flexibility has been most clearly seen in changes to work patterns as companies have tried to weather the storm, with a wide variety of measures used to reduce labour costs while preserving the skills and experience built up in workforces.
By far the most popular tactic has been to increase the use of flexible working which can help employers to reduce working hours and make better use of staff, while employees in some cases will actively benefit from a change in balance between work and outside lives. …