So what does the rest of the decade have in store for businesses and their HR experts?  Our popular columnist, Steve Herbert examines the prospects

I think it’s fair to say that the 2020’s have been a rather disappointing and dispiriting experience to date.

Yet with the nation mostly now double or treble vaccinated, and COVID-19 antibodies present in the vast majority of the population, it may finally be time for us all to look to the future and a post-pandemic business world.

And as the nation finally returns to some form of normality there will – almost inevitably – be a short, sharp, spending boom as two years’ worth of suppressed and delayed plans and activity are suddenly unleashed.

And any such increase in economic activity is likely to prompt at least some newspapers to suggest that we are heading for a repeat of the “roaring 20s”.


So are the remainder of the 2020s likely to echo those of the 1920s?

It’s easy to understand why journalists might reach for that comparison.  For the last truly global pandemic was that of the (so called) “Spanish” Flu almost exactly 100 years ago.  And the national finances were also in a perilous position then too.

Yet the UK then experienced the “roaring” twenties.

Or did we?

History can be a selective art, and whilst the 1920’s really were a boom time across the pond in the United States, it was far less the case in the United Kingdom.

Of course some businesses and individuals did very well indeed (because someone always does in any economic cycle), yet the historical punctuation marks of the 1920s are possibly Churchill’s disastrous decision to return to the gold standard in 1925, and the general strike of 1926.  These hard facts tell a rather different story to the rose-tinted historical commentaries of economic good times.

Another comparison?

So if the 1920s are not a good comparison, what is?

Sadly the current economic climate looks somewhat closer to that faced half a century ago by the United Kingdom.

For the 1970s was a decade dogged by fuel and energy crisis, rampant inflation, low growth, and a reduction in the confidence and social cohesion of the nation too.


The four horsemen?

And as we emerge from the pandemic in 2022 the UK looks set to face many of these challenges once again.

 For three of the four horsemen of a challenging economic decade ahead rode into town only last Thursday.


  • The fuel crisis has been ongoing since last autumn, and the energy crisis is now starting to really bite too, with the energy price cap set to increase by huge margins at least twice in the remainder of 2022.
  • Inflation may not (thankfully) be at the eye-watering levels of the 1970s, but it is still way above the low-inflation economy that we have all become used to since the mid-1990’s.
  • And the announcement last week of growth forecasts being cut is also a genuine worry.


It follows that the overall economic outlook is anything but strong.

So what of the last horseman, that of confidence and social cohesion?


Consumer and business confidence

Certainly the nation’s social cohesion was badly damaged by the long-running Brexit debate which was hugely polarising.  Yet some of those wounds have healed a little as the people of the United Kingdom faced the new and unexpected threat of Covid-19.

Whereas confidence remains more difficult to gauge.  Whilst all the economic factors point towards genuine economic problems, it may just be that the desire of individuals and business to return to that post-pandemic normality might reduce the damage a little.

And anecdotal evidence can be a useful indicator in such judgements.

For instance the release of blockbuster movie Spiderman: No way home film right in the midst of the Omicron outbreak could have been a commercial disaster.  Yet people still flocked to see it, and some staggering box office receipts were recorded despite those external challenges.

And only last weekend I witnessed people actively queuing outside several town-centre café’s waiting for a table inside to become available.  This is not something I have ever seen before in my local area.

So on the one hand we have the harsh economic reality and a forced reduction in discretionary spending, on the other we have the desire of people and businesses to return to their pre-pandemic plans and spending habits.

The latter may help mitigate the former a little in any short-term spending boom.  But tough times later in the year are still likely as the financial reality eventually bites.


What can employers do to help?

So what can employers and their HR experts do to help their employees, and indeed the wider national economy?

The default answer would usually be to provide significant pay awards to all employees.  Yet employers too are facing many of the same economic constraints, so this may not be a realistic option for many.

And even if your business is in a position to make such a significant pay gesture, there are some concerns that doing so could worsen – or at least extend – the economic challenges being faced by the nation.  Indeed the Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, was last week encouraging employees not to request – and employers not to grant – big pay awards.  Please see this video for one such interview.

So if a pay rise is not an option, then employers need to do what they can to improve the financial wellbeing of employees through the provision and use of employee benefits, and indeed via the medium of financial education.

There are plenty of approaches that will help employees manage their finances better (please see the conclusion of my last post for Employer News), and ultimately anything that employers can do to lessen the financial challenges of the next few months will be useful and beneficial to employees, employers, and the national economy.

Ultimately the prospect of an economic repeat of the apparently “roaring 20s” may be rather unlikely in the near term.  But a gently slumbering – and not too financially uncomfortable – few years will probably be acceptable to most workers and businesses after the horrendous opening to the decade.

It is in all our interests to try and secure that outcome.

Steve Herbert is Head of Benefits Strategy at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing