Alongside changes to the terms and conditions of their employment, the recession may also have altered people's views about the quality of their jobs. For example, training budgets may have been cut, thereby restricting people's opportunities for continued learning and skill acquisition at work (European Social Survey, 2011). Scope for career progression and pay rises may also have been reduced. There are different theories about what determines job quality. Some researchers have emphasised the negative consequences of stress resulting from an imbalance between the efforts an employee makes and the rewards he or she receives in terms of recognition or payment (Siegrist et al., 2004). Others have focused more on the relationship between the degree of control (or autonomy) that employees feel over their work, the demands being placed on them, and the extent of any social support they receive from the organisation or fellow workers (Karasek et al., 1998). The European Social Survey asks a number of questions related to these issues that have, in turn, been linked to people's overall health and sense of wellbeing (Clark et al., 2011).
In 2004 and 2010, people in work were asked to assess on a scale of 0 to 10 - where 0 is "I have no influence" and 10 is "I have complete influence" - how much they are able to influence how their own daily work is organised. In Britain, the average overall score has barely changed (from 7.1 in 2004 to 7.2 in 2010). However, women's assessment of their level of control has increased, raising their average from 6.9 to 7.2 - the same as men. Here, as in a number of other areas, we see evidence that the employment experiences of men and women have been converging in recent years.
Interest and variety
Asked if they have "had to do less interesting work" in the past three years, one in four people with jobs (24 per cent) say they have. In a different, although related, question, workers were asked if there was "a lot of variety" in their work. The replies show a modest decline since 2004 in the proportion agreeing that this is "quite true" or "very true", from 71 per cent to 67 per cent. This reduction is entirely due to a fall in the proportion of male workers who agree that their work provides variety, from 72 per cent to 64 per cent.
The European Social Survey also asks people in work whether they "can get support and help from co-workers when needed". The results show that there has been little change in employees' perceptions of this since before the recession. Eighty-three per cent say that it is "quite true" or "very true" that they received support from co-workers, compared with 81 per cent in 2004. Men (81 per cent) are now only a little less likely than women (84 per cent) to agree they get help and support - a smaller gap than in 2004 (78 per cent compared with 84 per cent).
Opportunities for advancement
Workers were asked whether "opportunities for advancement are good" at their workplace. Overall the proportion saying this is "quite true" or "very true" has remained stable at 44 per cent since 2004. However, this masks very different trends for men and women. While men have become more likely to feel that their advancement opportunities are good (increasing from 40 per cent in 2004 to 47 per cent in 2010), women have become less likely to feel this way (from 48 per cent to 42 per cent).
Lastly in relation to job quality, we consider the replies from workers to questions concerning work intensity. Respondents were asked how far they agreed with two statements:
My job requires that I work very hard
I never seem to have enough time to get everything done in my job
The replies (Table 6.4) reveal a mixed response. Eighty-eight per cent feel that they are required to work very hard, up from 78 per cent in 2004. However, this does not translate into an increase in workers feeling that they are under so much pressure that there is too little time to get everything done. While almost half agree this is the case in 2010, the proportion was the same in 2004, before the recession. Women are more likely than men to say their job requires hard work, and that they don't have enough time to get everything done.
When it comes to trends in reported job quality, we have seen that several aspects have deteriorated in recent years, while others have remained stable. None, however, has shown improvement overall. Given our earlier findings on pay and job insecurity, this may reflect a growing perception among workers of an imbalance between workplace efforts and rewards. It is worth noting, however, that some changes in job quality have not affected male and female workers to the same extent. For example, men have become less likely to report variety in their work and more likely to experience social support. Women, meanwhile, report more control in the workplace, but poorer opportunities for advancement. So, what have these changes in job quality and conditions meant for job satisfaction among men and women?
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- British Social Attitudes and European Social Survey analysis excludes Northern Ireland, whereas OECD data are based on the whole UK. Various terms are used in this chapter to refer to people in paid work (for example, "workers", "people in paid work", and "employed people"). They all denote everyone who is either an employee or is self-employed, who usually works 10 hours or more a week, and who considers work to be their main activity.
- Part-time work was defined as working less than 35 hours per week.
- Bases for Table 6.5 are as follows:
- The fourth Work-Life Balance Employee Survey was conducted by NatCen Social Research for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
- This includes people who say they "always", "often", "sometimes" or "hardly ever" do this, but excludes those who say they "never" do.
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