The 1980s was a colourful and exhilarating decade. We saw the introduction of the first mobile phone – practically a stone-age device compared with today’s smartphones – the birth of the CD, and breakfast TV first aired in 1983. Do you remember who was part of TV AM’s “famous five” that launched the channel?

Something that highlighted a change in attitudes was the re-election of Margaret Thatcher with a landslide victory in the general election. Then there were only 23 women MPs, now there are 147. Today, women make up more than half of the UK workforce, and as a country, we are more educated and have more skilled jobs than ever before.

Over the past 30 years, our lives have changed dramatically – probably more than in any other 30 year period in history – but some things just haven’t kept pace.

Today’s workforce is older and includes more women and disabled workers than in the 1980s, but employee benefits haven’t evolved to reflect these changes.

We’ve published research called Keeping Pace? Financial Insecurity in the Modern Workforce with Cass Business School. It paints a picture of how the make-up of our workforce has changed. It also makes recommendations about what employers should do to better protect their people.

Falling Into Financial Difficulty

The research finds significant gaps have opened up between employer-provided benefits and the protection required by today’s workforce. At a time when the demographics of the modern workforce are shifting towards employees that have a greater need for financial benefits, the research shows that the ratio of wages to employee benefits is outdated.

As a result, we’re more likely to fall into financial difficulty than we were 30 years ago. And, if we’re in financial difficulty we’re less productive, so it’s in an employer’s best interests to better protect their people.

The research also makes some recommendations for how businesses can better protect their staff, by:

  • Helping staff plan for old age – greater pension contributions and support with social care in later life
  • Providing better support for people with long-term illnesses and disabilities through specialist vocational support for rehabilitation; offering Group Income Protection to improve financial security; and making workplace adaptations
  • Improving access to occupational health and wellbeing services and financial protection
  • Providing elective private medical insurance to address the increasing demands of an aging population and the escalating costs of new drug treatments
  • Offering flexible working to all employees to support the ageing workforce, and the ‘sandwich generation’, who have the increased caring responsibilities for both children and older relatives


The Modern Workforce: An infographic by the team at Unum UK

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So, if we’re to return to the heady heights of the 1980s – when Michael Jackson’s Thriller was number one and we were all flocking to the cinema to see Return of the Jedi – we need to feel more financially secure. Employers have an important role to play, and benefits to reap, if they take action and better protect their workforce.


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