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ONS job market data: May 2020 | Recruitment News UK

eBoss looks at emerging trends from the UK job market, in January to March of this year.

eBoss recruitment news pages have reported and assessed the monthly Office for National Statistics’ job market data for more than nine months. In that time, we have seen a continued recruitment trend towards low unemployment, steady job creation, and high unfilled vacancies. For the first time, those trends will start to look a little different.

The ONS job market report for May tackles the months January to March 2020. This set of figures will begin to display the impact of COVID-19 on the global economy – and on the UK employment sector.

Weekly Hours

A notable change to the format of the ONS report, hours worked becomes a recorded metric in this, and future, reporting.
The total number of hours worked per week was 1,040.6 million in the period of study. The ONS estimates that this represents a fall of 12 million hours over the same period a year earlier.

The inclusion of weekly hours worked is perhaps the most interesting part of this first, post-pandemic report. The data lends itself to productivity calculations. If the government can chart GDP against hours worked, then it will be able to track productivity more accurately.

One of the main changes to working life post-COVID has been the reduction of hours worked for many professionals. Could this new set of data be preparing us for a future of work where there is a focus on higher productivity within a shorter working day?

As we have previously reported, the UK works the longest hours in Europe. Yet productivity is mediocre at best.

It would therefore be welcomed if a new culture emerged from the upheaval of the pandemic: one where a better work-life balance and better work rate improved well-being and productivity for all.


Employment matched previous all-time highs prior to the coronavirus outbreak. UK employment from January to March stood at 76.6 per cent. This represents a 0.2 per cent increase on the previous month’s report, and a 0.6 per cent growth over the previous twelve months.


The rate of unemployment in the UK was estimated at 3.9 per cent for the period of study. That figure shows a marginal increase of 0.1 per cent over the previous quarter. The slight increase will be welcomed: about one third of the study period

With furlough schemes being introduced, job security in the UK has become a frequently-discussed topic. Although it is clear that the unemployment rate will increase substantially in future reports, it is reassuring to see that the UK jobs market entered the pandemic in a state of relatively strong health.


So far, we have seen that employment, unemployment, and hours worked remained relatively stable throughout the initial period of the pandemic. However, when looking at the numbers of unfilled vacancies, we see a dramatic change in prevailing trends.

In the period of January to March 2020, there were 637,000 unfilled vacancies in the UK. That figure reveals a fall of 170,000 form the previous quarter. It is 210,000 fewer vacancies than the same period in 2019.

With little evidence from the employment and unemployment numbers of those outstanding positions having been filled, the most obvious assumption would be that there was a collapse in new job postings and hiring sentiment.


Salaries continued to rise, but at a considerably slower pace than in previous reports. Inflation-adjusted pay grew by 1.0 per cent for regular pay: down form 1.3 per cent in the previous month’s report.

Job market trends

The first report of the post-crisis world may be revealing a new set of trends.

Why? Because recruiters have perhaps grown used to operating within a lean jobs market for a number of years. Until now, however, it was the shallowness of the talent pool versus the depth of unfilled vacancies which tended to throttle performances.

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Now, the reverse may be true. A surfeit of available workers may prove a challenge to process and place in a job market where employers are cautious about their hiring intentions.

At the same time, a new focus on productivity and output may change the types of roles that will be created in the future. The one question that some may ask is this: has the traditional nine-to-five already become a thing of the past?

Download the full ONS report here (pdf).
You can also find past reports here.

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