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The Road Ahead 2023: Supporting staff, trustees and volunteers

In this series, we examine the trends that will impact charities and volunteering in 2023. This article explores the issues affecting the people at the heart of our organisations.

Dedicated staff, trustees and volunteers are the beating heart of the voluntary sector.

Our UK Civil Society Almanac shows almost one million people worked in the voluntary sector in 2022. That’s about 3% of the UK workforce. And at least 16 million people volunteered with a group, club, or organisation at least once during the same period.

But the crises we’ve faced in recent years are taking their toll on this valuable workforce. We need to protect our people if we’re to effectively deliver our missions and purpose.

Here are the key trends to consider when planning for your people this year.

Recruitment is likely to remain challenging

Recent evidence from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that while 46% of all employers state they have hard-to-fill vacancies, this rises to 56% in the voluntary sector. There are lots of reasons for this recruitment challenge, including:

Record job numbers

According to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in September 2022 the total number of jobs in the UK increased to a record 36.2 million. More jobs can lead to high competition for roles.

Vacancies are high

ONS data suggests the number of vacancies in December 2022 was falling but remained high and above pre-pandemic levels. More vacancies give applicants more choice.

High levels of economic inactivity

The ONS estimates that in November 2022, one in five working-age people (21.5%) weren’t working or looking for work. A reduced labour market can mean increased competition for roles.

Pay will affect recruitment and retention

Low pay, alongside rates of pay elsewhere outpacing the voluntary sector, threatens our ability to recruit and retain people. Some may be forced to find better paid work to support themselves and their families – even if they don't want to leave their jobs.

Rates of pay in the voluntary sector are low

Pro Bono Economics’ analysis of charity sector pay found people in the voluntary sector are paid 7% less per hour compared to others. But across the wider workforce, low paying jobs are in decline.

ONS data shows the proportion of low-paid jobs in the economy is at the lowest levels since records began in 1997.

Public and private sectors are increasing their pay

The ONS estimates that by November 2022 average regular pay growth for the private sector was 7.3%, and 3.3% for the public sector. This accounts for one of the largest differences between private and public sector pay.

As many voluntary organisations benchmark salaries and pay increases against the public sector, we can expect similar disparities to exist between the private and voluntary sectors.

Rising pay is not matching rising prices

ONS data shows that average UK wages have risen slower than prices. This means workers need a larger proportion of their wages to buy the same things.

As a result, many workers will want a larger pay increase to keep up with inflation.

Industrial disputes and strikes are on the rise

This mismatch between pay and cost of living is in part fuelling an increase in strikes. According to ONS data, 2022 saw the highest number of work days lost to labour disputes in a decade. Those striking included several voluntary organisations.

Flexible working is the new normal

Pro Bono Economics’ analysis of charity sector pay shows that charities have traditionally relied on the flexibility and sense of purpose they offer to counter low pay. But the pay sacrifice employees are willing to make to gain flexibility and purpose is likely to shrink as more sectors prioritise wellbeing.

To rise to the recruitment challenge, our sector needs to consider both pay and wellbeing.

Remote working is here to stay

ONS data shows two in five adults (35–40%) worked from home at some point in the past seven days throughout most of 2022.

This means trends in homeworking have stabilised, and we all need to ensure we continue supporting remote working in the year ahead.

Flexible working rights will be extended

In its response to the ‘Make flexible working the default’ consultation, the government has pledged to:

  • help employees request flexible working from ‘day one’
  • simplify the process for requesting flexible working
  • increase how often a request can be made.

The voluntary sector has an opportunity to lead the way here. For ideas on how to embrace flexible working, read our 2022 report: Time to flex.

Supporting wellbeing is key

In November 2021 the Law Family Commission on Civil Society reported that three in four charity leaders were worried about burnout in their teams.

Given the darkening fiscal situation and the reported fall in national wellbeing by the ONS, it’s crucial that leaders show care and support to their teams.

Valuing volunteers is critical

Volunteers power many of our organisations and communities. But like our staff, they’re also affected by the economic crisis, fallout of the pandemic, and changes in personal circumstances.

As a sector, we need to respond to these challenges while also looking ahead to future trends.

Beware of recruitment and retention challenges

Our 2022 Almanac showed signs that the sector is struggling to retain volunteers from older and socio-economically disadvantaged groups. And our research into volunteering in the pandemic found risks of volunteer burnout and fatigue more widely.

It’s too early to know if this trend will endure, but reviewing the volunteer experience at your organisation will help you hold on to committed volunteers.

Consider the impact of cost of living

Volunteers may give their time for free, but it costs to support them. Consider how inflationary pressure will impact your volunteers’ expenses. For example, we know last year’s rise in fuel prices affected volunteers’ travel costs.

If you decide to restructure or reduce your staff, take care that volunteers don’t displace paid staff.

Get set for the long term

In 2022, we helped launch a new sector-wide Vision for Volunteering. This sets a long-term vision for volunteering in England to 2032.

In 2023, we’ll be taking this vision to communities – sign up to our regular emails for updates.

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