Workers more insecure and pressured than in 20 years, says report

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Britain’s employees are feeling more insecure and pressured at work than at any time in the past 20 years, national survey results published today show.

The findings of the Skills and Employment survey are based on face-to-face interviews with 3,000 workers aged 20 to 60. They show public sector workers no longer feel more secure than those in the private sector. In addition to fear of job loss they are increasingly worried about loss of status and unfair treatment at work.

The survey, conducted every six years, is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) and includes three reports published today.

One, “Fear at Work”, says: “The major change that occurred between 2006 and 2012 was that for the first time public sector employees were quite clearly more concerned about losing their employment than those in the private sector.”  People in workplaces that had downsized or reorganised are the most likely to feel these concerns, says the report.

The three reports show that:

– In 2012 more than half of employees (51%) were concerned about job status loss. The biggest concern was about pay reductions, followed by loss of say over their job.

– People are working harder. “Work intensification”, which was previously rife in the early 1990s, has resumed since 2006. Both the speed of work and pressures of working to tight deadlines have risen to record highs. Technological change is a key factor, but contrary to common belief, work intensification is not associated with downsizing.

– Job stress has gone up and job-related well-being has gone down since 2006.

Francis Green, Professor of Work and Education Economics at the IOE, says: “Since the start of the recession, the growth of fear not only of employment loss but of unfair treatment and loss of status was particularly strong in the public sector. Attention should be paid to the deteriorating climate of employee relations in this area.”

The researchers also note that employees were more content and less anxious about job or status loss “where employers adopted policies that gave employees a degree of involvement in decision-making at work”.

“The slowness with which employers in Britain are enhancing employee participation is becoming an issue of considerable concern,” says Professor Alan Felstead of the Cardiff School of Social Sciences. “In general, better job control entails increased employee involvement and participation. The intention should be to improve the balance between the benefits of hard work and the costs.”

Peter Cheese, chief executive at the Chartered Institute of Professional Development, said: “The decline in job satisfaction and employee engagement revealed by the Government’s Skills and Employment Survey makes for worrying reading for businesses, the economy and wider society. But CIPD research shows that the voluntary sector appears to be bucking this trend, with valuable lessons to be learned for the private and public sectors. Nevertheless, we need to take the findings of the Government’s latest survey very seriously indeed. Too many recent and spectacular failures – from the banking crisis to public sector scandals like that affecting the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust – are almost entirely born of problems of culture.  Although profoundly different in many ways, they have common roots in issues of trust, empowerment and engagement. What’s good for people is good for business – and if we can embrace that truth to build cultures in which people want to work and are unified by a common purpose, we can not only prevent catastrophes, we can truly build more sustainable economic growth.”

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