Private service sector work undergoing change
Work in the private service sector has been undergoing changes for a long time. Digitalization, the transition to a 24/7 society and the recent crises have changed consumer behaviour. Work in the service sector responds to consumers' needs as well as the needs of companies and the public sector. Sometimes changes happen slowly, sometimes things change overnight.
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COVID-19 and Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022 sped up changes
It is estimated that the private service sector employs over 400,000 people in Finland. The largest areas are commerce, tourism and catering, and real estate. In addition, the private service sector employs a large number of people in other areas, such as security guards and employees of pharmacies and cinemas. Various service industry sectors have faced labour shortages. Securing workforce requires ensuring the well-being and competence of existing employees as well as the recruitment and induction of new employees.
In addition to the service needs of the private and public sectors, consumers' needs and ability to consume determine work in the service sector. For example, restrictive measures put in place in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 closed down restaurants, steering consumers to replace restaurant meals with takeout meals or cook themselves. In addition, the threat of infection shifted many families' grocery shopping online and increased the need for cleaning in public areas. These and other changes in consumer behaviour brought about by the pandemic were quickly reflected in service sector work.
The changes existed already, but the COVID-19 pandemic and related containment measures accelerated the pace of change. Now, the energy crisis and rising prices brought about by Russia's attack are shaping consumer behaviour and work in the service sector.
Examining work diversification, automation and digitalization
This article discusses three different changes in the work and tasks of service sector employees. The prevalence of the changes is examined in the entire respondent population and also according to the respondent's industry and age. The sectors concerned are commerce, tourism and catering, real estate services, security and other sectors, which are a group of other private service occupations. The age categories are under 35 years, 35-50 years and over 50 years.
The examined changes are related to employees' views on the automation of work, carrying out work tasks digitally, such as using a smartphone, and the diversification of work tasks. The question “How much are the following changes or situations visible in your work environment?” was used to assess the prevalence of the changes. The statements were assessed on a four-point scale from “Very much” to “Not at all”. There was also the option “Cannot say”.
These three variables are used to describe changes in service sector work and, on the other hand, their quality in terms of automation and digitalization.
Sector-specific differences in changes to work tasks, little difference between age groups
The diversification of work tasks concerned almost three quarters of the respondents at least to some extent. In the real estate services sector, about a third of the respondents felt that they were not at all affected by the diversification of work tasks. In other sectors, the share of “Not at all” responses varied from 16% in the commerce sector to 22% in the security sector. There were also sector-specific differences in perspectives on whether the work has diversified to a significant extent or if it is possible to make any statement about this factor at all. In the commerce sector, more than one in ten feel that work has diversified significantly. At the same time, 7 per cent of the respondents in the commerce sector felt they could not take a stand regarding the diversification of work. The share of those who were unsure was highest in the security and other sectors, around 12-13%. When examining the age groups, it was more common for younger respondents to feel they could not take a stand in relation to the statement regarding the diversification of work tasks compared with older age groups.
The automation or robotisation of work affected slightly more than 40 per cent of service sector employees to some extent. However, very few service sector employees were affected by the change very significantly. Differences between various sectors were notable. In commerce and other sectors, the change affected about half of the respondents, while in tourism and catering, real estate services and security only one in three or fewer were affected. There was nearly no difference in this regard between the various age groups.
Digitalisation of work tasks was more common. More than 65% of respondents perform their tasks digitally, using tools such as a smartphone. There were sector-specific differences especially in the proportion of “Not at all” responses, ranging from 23% in the commercial sector to around 40% in the travel and catering and real estate services sectors. Difference by age were small. In the youngest age group, there were slightly more people performing work tasks digitally than in those aged 35-50 or over 50.
Changes in the digitalisation of work tasks is related to the increase in online sales. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents felt that services had been taken online. The share was highest in the commerce sector, where more than three out of four respondents felt that the sale of products or services had been taken online. In the tourism and catering sector, 65% of respondents felt this way, in other sectors about half of the respondents. In the real estate services and security sector, the share remained below 30%. Examined by age group, young people were slightly more likely to be uncertain about the change compared with older groups. However, the differences were small.
Change is a permanent condition in the service sector
In a labour market plagued by labour shortages, it is important to maintain, support and develop the working ability of the current workforce. This means work ability management. Care must be taken to manage the workload with a sufficient number of personnel, smooth working practices and good working conditions. Signals of reduced work ability need to be addressed at an early stage. Recovery must be ensured by paying attention to both working hours and recovery skills. Skills needs must be met with continuous competence development in the workplace. In the case of new as well as older employees, care must be taken with regard to induction, its quality and adequacy. With the current pace of change, a younger employee may end up providing induction to someone their senior. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that forecasting competence needs is extremely important for both individual employees and entire work communities.
Work life is shaped by changes in thinking and operating methods, technological development, demographic change and climate change (Kokkinen, 2020). These changes pose challenges to employees' competence, well-being at work and work ability, as well as the management of these factors in the future. Many changes are particularly rapidly visible in the service sector, as the way in which products and services are consumed can change quickly. However, the changes facing the services sector are not coming to an end. Rather, they can be expected to continue.
This Work-Life Knowledge service analysis page also involves a data page: Well-being at work and competence in the service sector.
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