In a year marked by record-high inflation and a historically tight labour market, how have UK employees’ feelings about the world of work changed? Glassdoor’s access to millions of employee insights allows us a unique look into employees’ thoughts about their workplace experience. To answer this question, we analysed over 700,000 reviews in 2021 and 2022 from UK-based employees.
Glassdoor’s reviews paint a picture of a labour market struggling to adjust to the new normal. After the Omicron Christmas season of late 2021, employees have returned to the office in far greater numbers in 2022, many working in hybrid environments. Flexibility in where and when to work remains a key perk for many employees, with flexible hours and workplaces staying the norm for many -even as other aspects of life returned to normal.
The downsides of an extremely tight labour market with high labour churn also shows up in our reviews, with fast-paced, turnover and short-staffed among the fastest-growing words in 2022.
With inflation at record-high numbers, it’s no surprise that discussion of salaries and the cost of living has skyrocketed over the past year. And despite the robustness of the job market, employees are increasingly worried about the possibility of being made redundant and layoffs.
After decades of low inflation in the UK, the rapid rise in prices beginning mid-2021 has taken its toll on employees. Inflation was highlighted last year as a runner-up for Glassdoor’s Word of the Year 2021, with discussion in reviews as of mid-December 2021 up 57 percent on 2020. This year, inflation alone more than tripled, jumping 232 percent. We also looked at the rise in mentions of the cost of living, which increased 337 percent.
These results are unsurprising juxtaposed against the background of the cost-of-living crisis. Although November’s ONS labour market report showed that nominal wage growth is nearing an all-time high at 5.7 percent year on year, real wage growth is close to a decades-long low (with base pay excluding bonuses declining 2.7 percent in real terms) thanks to inflation.
Our most commonly used words of the year, salary and pay, remain a prime concern for Glassdoor employees, appearing in nearly a third of all reviews in 2022. Salary and pay’s share of the conversation grew by 8 percent this year, driven entirely by a 14 percent growth in negative discussion. In 2022, the cost-of-living crisis began cutting into workers’ paychecks and real wages declined this year for the first time since 2020 covid furloughs. Consequently, we saw a larger decline in sentiment in salary and pay than in other words– in 2021, 46 percent of mentions were positive, but this dropped to 42 percent in 2022.
Salaries were a particularly popular topic of conversation among those working in retail roles – employees were approximately 16 percent more likely to mention salaries than the average worker.
One benefit of the coronavirus pandemic: an increase in the flexibility offered to employees, with discussion up 11 percent. Often interpreted as referring to flexibility in place of work, flexible can also refer to flexibility around scheduling and time working.
In fact, 31 percent of all reviews containing the word flexible also mentioned hours, implying that flexibility in work time is a frequent topic of conversation. Such benefits are nearly universally beloved by employees, with 88 percent of all mentions positive.
Though flexible work is often seen as the domain of office jobs, flexibility and similar words were mentioned in a diverse range of roles in our reviews. In fact, employees with roles in retail and food services were the most likely to discuss flexible work, accounting for 9.8 percent of all mentions.
The meaning of ‘flexibility’ can vary from industry to industry; for example, retail & food service employees, who are usually required to be onsite, may prefer flexibility in scheduling while tech workers may desire the flexibility to both choose their own hours and where to work. Regardless of the interpretation, flexibility is clearly something appreciated by workers of all stripes.
One disadvantage of a tight labour market and a boom in consumer demand post-pandemic: a breakneck pace to fulfil customer demand. The choice of fast-paced as one of our words of the year reflects this new reality. It’s still a relatively rare word, but one that is growing quickly. Though fast-paced only appears in 0.35 percent of all reviews, the share of reviews with the word has increased 565 percent year on year.
Interestingly, mentions are equally split between positive and negative, making fast-paced one of our most polarising words this year. Some employees saw the fast pace at their work as exciting and never boring, while others described it as stressful. High turnover may also be a factor in negative experiences of fast-paced work.
Employers aren’t the only ones feeling the pain of constant turnover. Employee discussion of turnover grew 23 percent in 2022. Unlike fast-paced, however, 95 percent of the discussion is negative. Employees in marketing and healthcare were most concerned about turnover, with reviews for these roles 20 and 17 percent more likely than the average worker to mention it in their reviews.
Unsurprisingly in a year with high turnover, employees’ discussion about the lack of staff in their workplaces grew 32 percent, with negative mentions accounting for 97 percent of those mentions!
In a year where employees are increasingly returning to the office, so is the discussion in Glassdoor reviews. The words office and onsite saw a 24 and 82 percent increase, respectively, in mentions in 2022 from last year. When both are combined, mentions grew 25 percent overall.
Overall, despite many employees’ enjoyment of remote and hybrid work, both words enjoyed positive sentiment overall. Mentions of office were positive 59 percent of the time, whereas 73 percent of onsite discussion was positive.
A constant topic in the news, being made redundant and layoff(s) have trickled down to employee reviews, with mentions doubling from last year. Unsurprisingly, these words draw negative feelings amongst employees, with 91.4 percent of all mentions negative ones. Though employees are increasingly anxious about the possibility of layoffs, redundancies still remain below their pre-pandemic average and hiring remains a larger challenge than firing for employers.
Last year’s word of the year, hybrid, remained a popular topic of discussion in 2022. For the second year in a row, it was one of the top ten fastest-growing words in Glassdoor reviews, increasing over six times from 2021. Its already-positive sentiment grew from 78.2 to 82.1 percent of all mentions this year, perhaps to be expected considering our research earlier this year that found mentions of hybrid work correlated with a lower likelihood to apply to new jobs.
Employee discussions in 2022 reflect many of the broader themes that we’ve heard so much about this year in the news: not enough staff and frequent job hopping, returns to the office, salary growth that’s failing to meet inflation despite being historically high, and a focus on flexibility in the workplace. As 2023 shapes up to be a tumultuous year in the labour market, with hiring set to remain tight even as the broader economy faces turmoil, retaining employees will remain important.
To analyse how the use of terms and topics in employee reviews have changed over time, we examined the text of company reviews on Glassdoor (including the pros, cons and feedback sections) for all reviews submitted by UK employees for jobs held in 2021 and 2022. 2022 reviews are as of October 18, 2022.
We removed common words that do not add much meaning to a sentence, called stopwords, from all reviews and grouped together different forms of the same word (for example, ‘ran’, ‘run’ and ‘running’ would all be grouped), a process known as lemmatisation. Several of our words of the year were grouped together with related words; for example: flexibility, flexible and flexitime were grouped together in the word flexible.
We then calculated the percent change in the share of reviews that use each word or phrase from 2021 to 2022. Each word we featured saw a significant increase in usage from 2021. Significance was calculated using a two-tailed two-proportions hypothesis test.
We define a mention of a word as positive if it appears in the pros section of a review and negative if it appears in the cons section. When calculating the proportion of mentions that are positive or negative, we use (number of mentions in pros + number of mentions in cons) as our denominator.
Using a proprietary Glassdoor machine learning model, we also grouped reviews together by Glassdoor-defined occupations (e.g., food services, sales, etc.). Only roles with a minimum of 4500 reviews were included in the turnover chart.