Election 2015: how has the workplace changed in five years… and what next?

On one side, there has been a steady strengthening of the hand of employers.

There are now 1.8 million people on zero-hours contracts, which provide no guarantee of work and the statutory minimum of benefits. Shares for employment rights made smaller businesses take on staff and reduce risk, while the bar for a tribunal claim has been raised substantially. Lastly, the Fit for Work scheme introduced in October last year aims to shepherd people on sick leave back to work faster.

Yet for all the criticism around each of these measures – and there has been a great deal – in other ways the workplace is a much better place for employees in 2015.

The long-term financial wellbeing of many employees is being greatly enhanced by the automatic enrolment into a pensions scheme.

At the same time, a critical mass of employers has grasped the idea that fit and healthy employees are good for business as well as being good for the individual. As a result, more workplaces are taking proactive measures to tackle employee health and wellbeing.

The focus on employee engagement and happiness at work spurred by the launch of Engage for Success and Action for Happiness have made the case for employers to look at the drivers of business success in a different way.

Despite all this, as we stand today, employers must contemplate substantial challenges in the years ahead.

One major task is that of rebuilding trust in organisations among employees. The misdemeanors of leaders in a range of sectors from the NHS to banks and supermarkets have left employees with in-built cynicism for those at the top. We can no longer assume people are prepared to follow where leaders ask their people go.

A second challenge is to reinvent the way organisations recognise and reward employees. Pay is important and so too is better use of benefits. However, what can really make a difference is more creative use of HR policy to help employees flex around their demanding lifestyles and using recognition to manage people in a different, more inspirational way.

The final opportunity is for employers to invest more so they can achieve a standout contribution from their people. If the years of pay squeezes and job cuts are behind us, so too is the idea that people will stay in their job just to keep a job. Employees on the move will want to work with organisations that really show they invest in their people.

Each of these challenges is significant in its own right. Taken together they are even more so.

So perhaps in the same way that political parties take time to map out what the policies and actions that will win the hearts and minds of people ahead of an election, employers should be doing the same thing too: planning a bold vision for the future so they can set themselves apart from the competition.