The CIPD has released the UK Working Lives survey, which seeks to establish how good job quality is in the UK. This new and comprehensive annual survey looks at seven dimensions of job quality gathered from widespread research and measures how important each one is to people in work.
Coming on the heels of the Government’s commitment to measure job quality and the Taylor Review, the survey represents the first comprehensive measure of job quality in the UK, across the workforce at all levels, sectors and regions. Combining previous research on the factors that affect job quality with a 6,000 sample survey, representative of the whole UK workforce, the results show that while overall headline satisfaction with work and jobs is reasonable, there are significant numbers who feel differently, and importantly some major systemic issues with overwork, stress and a lack of training and development.
The survey finds that two-thirds of workers (64%) say they are satisfied with their job, with just one in five (18%) dissatisfied. However, the survey helps to identify the key challenges for three main groups in the labour market, with those at the lower levels far less likely to have access to skills and training, and those in middle management feeling significantly squeezed by their workload.
Stuck in low-skilled jobs
Those further down the chain suffer from a lack of skills training and development opportunities. Among workers in low-skilled and casual work, more than a third (37%) have not received any training in the last 12 months, while two in five (43%) do not believe their job offers them good opportunities to develop their skills.
This lack of development opportunities risks leaving workers stuck and unable to progress, and is not effectively developing or utilising their skills. Employers and the Government need to continue the renewed focus on supporting skills development in all types of work and for people beyond the age of 25, but also in the nature and design of jobs that help get the best out of people and show them progression paths for the future.
Squeezed middle managers
The survey finds a concerning trend among workers in middle management, which paints a picture of a group of people who have too much on their plate, which is having a detrimental effect on their well-being. Three in ten (28%) of these workers say their work has a negative effect on their mental health, while more than a third (35%) say they have too much work to do. When taken together, this is an unsustainable cocktail that employers need to address by placing a greater focus on well-being in the workplace. Addressing cultures of presenteeism and encouraging more flexible working are critical longer term challenges organisations need to address.
Satisfied senior leaders
The survey finds that those at the top of the workforce, in senior manager roles, are the most satisfied with their job, and interestingly feel less pressured than middle managers. The primary drawback in these jobs is work-life balance, with more than a quarter of senior leaders (28%) saying that they find it difficult to fulfil personal commitments because of their job. However, this group does have the greatest access to flexible working, with 60% of these workers having the option of working from home in normal working hours. Organisations also have to recognise that stress in the workplace typically flows down the business. Managing stress and better work-life balance from the top down is vital to healthy organisations and a culture of good work.
Commenting, Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the CIPD, said: “The Government has been clear that it wants to improve job quality in the UK, but in order to create quality jobs you have to be able to know one when you see one. We have a record number of people in work, but we have to make sure that we have quality as well as quantity, and that means making sure every job is a good job. That is why we have undertaken the first comprehensive measure to help understand and clearly map job quality in the UK.
“Headline job satisfaction is reasonably strong, and that is to be welcomed. However, it is clearly lacking for many people, and that headline masks some serious structural issues in the UK labour market.
“Those in management positions are often overworked, which can not only lead to stress and poor mental health, but also means they are not able to manage their teams to the best of their ability. Stress in the workplace passes down, and combined with the concerning lack of training and development opportunities for those in low-skilled work, is a heady mix which needs to be better understood and addressed to enable better productivity and well-being across all organisations.
“With employment levels high, challenges remain around productivity, and so organisations have to prioritise working smarter, not just harder. We need to ensure that we’re designing our jobs flexibly and in ways that best utilise the skills of the workforce, implementing positive health and well-being strategies, and tackling workplace cultures of stress and giving voice and support to our people. Alongside that, we need to give those looking to develop their skills the ability to do so, through workplace learning and wider investment in skills development to make sure we’re making the most of all the talent that people have.”
The analysis of the seven dimensions that affect job quality also shows that improving the elements of work that most impact workers well-being has a greater effect on job quality than any of the other factors. The CIPD believes that organisations who are looking for the first step in improving job quality in their own workplaces would be wise to look at well-being as a starting point.
Jonny Gifford, senior adviser for organisational behaviour at the CIPD, said: “In terms of overall solutions, the message is clear: healthy workers are happy and productive workers. If there’s one ultimate aim in job quality it should be to improve the well-being of our workers.
“We also need to look closely at the main factors that facilitate or get in the way of better quality jobs. More extensive training and development must be part of the solution, so workers can develop in their careers and feel more fulfilled in their work. There are also many things employers can do that make a real difference – in particular, fostering better workplace relationships and giving employees voice and choice on aspects of their working lives.”
Other findings of the survey include:
- Almost half of the surveyed workers (45%) think that their pay is ‘appropriate’ for what they do and 36% do not.
- Work is important to us: 59% would work even if they didn’t need the money
- 80% of employees rate their relationship with their managers positively
- Nearly two thirds (63%) would like to reduce their hours
The CIPD has recommended a number of solutions in order to help improve job quality:
- Offer clear pathways for progression (e.g. apprenticeships and mentoring schemes to ensure all their workers have the opportunity to develop)
- Focus more on the design of jobs and work to ensure best use of skills and clearer progression paths
- Ensure that all employees have a meaningful voice in the organisation through both individual and collective channels, and via formal and informal mechanisms
- Increase the provision of flexible working practices across their workplace
- Monitor workloads and deadlines to ensure people aren’t feeling under excessive pressure at work
- Conduct a stress audit and direct resources to reduce or eliminate the sources of stress at work
- Signpost support services to all staff and consider offering an employer-funded support programme
- Adopt a clear approach to remote working and out-of-hours working and create a wider enabling culture where senior managers feel trusted and empowered to take ownership of their work.
- Introduce mid-life career MOTs and greater investment in careers advice, information and guidance
- Increase the quantity and quality of vocational education and training by reframing the Apprenticeship Levy as a more flexible training levy and ensuring that all the money raised is spent on adult skills and training
- Promote lifelong learning. Government should revisit the potential for personal learning accounts, but with greater scope for individual and employer co-investment and a much closer link with high-quality careers information, advice, and guidance
- Provide funding for better support for small firms at a local level to help them improve their people management and development practices. Small businesses often don’t even have the basics of good people management practice in place and too many owner managers lack the time, resources or knowledge to improve how they manage and invest in their people
- Ensure the Health and Safety Executive has sufficient resources to encourage all employers to meet their existing legal duty to identify and manage the causes of work-related stress
- Continue to promote the measurement and understanding of good work, building the evidence, and integrating into the thinking of the Government’s Industrial Strategy.