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Q1 Forum: Where is the pendulum of power swinging?

On a very early and wet morning in March, nearly 100 guests gathered at the Soho Hotel for our first Forum of 2023, and our first in person event since 2019. The topic for the Form was centred around the pendulum of power and whether we are seeing it swing back in favour of the employer, or as panellist Lynn Akashi, Co-founder of Zetland Capital, stated, maybe the pendulum is not there at all. I was joined on stage by a panel of industry professionals[1] to explore the key themes and issues that are currently moving up the business agenda, with a particular focus on the management of a business’s biggest asset: its talent.

Canary in the coalmine: what do we foresee happening in the market?

Watch or listen to Robert's keynote speech here. Our keynote speaker, Employment Lawyer Robert Lewis, opened the discussion with an introduction to historic labour market trends and how this is presenting in the current macro environment. Positioning himself as the ‘canary in the coalmine’ due to the nature of his role, he is able to see hiring and redundancy trends before they are public. Demand increases ahead of mass layoffs as businesses seek legal counsel prior to announcing redundancies, and the increase has continued to soar since 2020. Using employment data from the pandemic, it was clear to see that employment rates have not recovered since the end of the furlough scheme. Numerous factors contribute to this, including the fact that many people furloughed were in the later stages of their careers or working parents who never re-entered the workplace. Prior to the pandemic, the data showed redundancy rates were steady until 2020 when we saw this dramatic spike, a similar reaction to the global financial crisis in 2008. Robert's forecast is things will get worse before they get better, with a continued downturn in redundancies across banking and tech firms as the market continues to tighten. And his forecast is already proving true - in the first few months of 2023 there have been more tech redundancies than in the whole of 2022[2]. For bankers, it seems as though moving to competitors is becoming the common behaviour. This constant shifting – forced or otherwise – is leaving businesses with the quandary of how to ensure their top talent is retained while simultaneously futureproofing the success of the business.

Blurred lines

There was a near-unanimous agreement that the ‘pendulum’ does not exist and we should not think of there being a ‘power’ struggle but instead businesses should focus on breaking down the divide between employer and employee and embed renewed collaboration and connection into internal structures. Divisions start when people don't feel they are being clearly communicated to and false truths get spread, especially during periods of change and uncertainty. If senior teams don’t address this directly and listen to their teams, there is a very real chance of culture rot. A simple solution is to provide teams with timely and transparent communications. Laura Wilkinson, Chief People Officer at Adarga, highlighted that using exaggerated time periods to convey changes allows employees the opportunity to embrace whatever is on the horizon. As we exit the pandemic era, there is the reoccurring theme facing companies of how to manage the expectations of employees. There was a shared sentiment that attracting and retaining top talent will remain a business’s best asset and therefore a priority and investment to keep them. But if this top talent doesn’t share the qualities of being a team player, belive in the company culture or has unrealistic expectations about the benefits they think they deserve, they will not be staying for the long term. Embrace this ‘positive churn’ for your business and don’t spend your resources on trying to satisfy the one individual; the talent who stick are the talent who want to succeed with you. As Marcus Anselm, Partner at JEGI CLARITY, said it's important for a business to have "everyone on the bus". The new ways of working adopted over the recent years has created a mixed understanding about the differences between ‘flexible’ and ‘hybrid’ working, with very many mistaking them as one and the same. As a result of this, employers are experiencing increased pushback from employees on what they expect their working patterns to be. Businesses must clearly signpost their working strategy from the outset, removing jargon and ambiguity from the terminology used to put working practices into place and as previously discussed, provide sufficient time for any changes being introduced.

Supporting juniors in the workplace

It is in the interest of both the business and the employee to flip the concept of ‘I can do this from home’ to ‘I am missing out on opportunities’. To the dismay and disbelief of some employees, being in an office environment has strong developmental benefits and learnings that working from home simply cannot offer. An approach the panel discussed was creating team or business vertical personas and goals that are only achieved from being in the office, creating a more tangible purpose, and helping individuals see the value of being amongst their peers. This is an especially valuable and supportive approach for junior workers who may never have experienced an office environment, either finishing ‘virtual’ education or starting a job during lockdown. It is harder for them to understand what they will gain from building in person relationships and being visible to senior peers if their only experience is delivering work remotely. Our panel agreed that it remains the responsibility of senior teams within a business to lead by example to create cohesion. To achieve a positive working environment, working practices must be visible at every level, with tools and procedures in place to help people feel secure and connected with others across the business. There is no one-size-fits-all approach for how to balance the relationship between employer and employee, and businesses must ultimately make decisions based on what is most sustainable for their teams and the business to succeed. This is a critical and often difficult blend to get right, but having transparent communication and listening to feedback lessens the risk of failure. At Dartmouth, our consultants can provide you with industry insights and guidance to help you navigate these often difficult situations. Please reach out to us if you’d like to discuss your business's hiring or retention strategies by emailing

  1. Panellists: Robert Lewis - Employment Lawyer and Partner, Mishcon de Reya LLP Lynn Akashi - Founding Partner and Chief Strategy Officer, Zetland Capital Marcus Anselm - Partner, JEGI CLARITY Laura Wilkinson- Chief People Officer, Adarga

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