September 15, 2016

How has employment changed in 40 years?


We all keep reading and hearing about how much workplaces have changed in recent decades and how the whole experience of work is very different now to 20,30, 40 years ago. What does it mean? What are the changes? How are attitudes and experiences different? Obviously, technology has had a major role to play here, but there are other factors contributing to the changes as well.

The latest annual report by the organisation British Social Attitudes, looks at what some 3,000 UK people have to say about living in Britain today. Different chapters cover different topics, such as social class, welfare and politics. In this post we focus on the third chapter – ‘Work’ .

What does ‘Work’ chapter say? Firstly, it highlights a few key changes in the labour market since the 1980s – greater numbers are now in employment and there is a higher proportion of graduates than ever before. In 1984, 10% of people had a degree level qualification, whereas now the proportion is 24%.

People appear to be happier with the quality of their jobs too. Well over two thirds (71%) of workers say they have a good job, a job that has one of at least four positive attributes – being interesting, helping others and/or society and offering chances for advancement. In 2005, 62% said they had a good job and in 1989, 57%.

Job security is highly valued (92%), but only around two-thirds (65%) say they have it in their current role. Interestingly, jobs are valued beyond the financial benefits they bring. A substantial number (625) of respondents say they would enjoy having a job even if they didn’t need the money, which is a big rise from 49% saying that in 2005.

However, that attitude is partly dictated by social class and education. Almost a third (63%) of those in professional or managerial jobs disagree that a job is just about the money it brings in, as opposed to only 34% of those in routine or semi-routine jobs.

It wouldn’t come as a surprise to any HR professional – or indeed any professional – to hear that workplace stress has risen. In 1989, 28% of workers experienced stress ‘always’ or ‘often’. That figure has risen to 37% of workers now. Who is experiencing the most stress? Professional and managerial workers and those in the 35-44 age bracket.

The report talks about ‘work intensification’, the current situation whereby more is expected of workers. Deadlines are tighter, the pace of work is faster, stress levels have risen and there is potentially greater monitoring of individuals. However, individuals do feel that they have more flexibility now to take an hour or two off during working hours to take care of personal or family matters than was previously the case.

The possible polarisation of the labour market also comes under the spotlight in the report. What does this mean? The report references research that indicates that there are increasing numbers of good jobs and increasing numbers of bad jobs and a hollowing out of jobs in between.

Discrepancies between employment of older workers and younger workers have also emerged, with younger people finding it harder to secure and remain in paid employment.

Another area where discrepancies still exist is pay. Namely, the gender pay difference. Despite lots of initiatives and calls to close the gender pay gap, it has only reduced by a certain amount. The current median difference in full-time hourly earnings is 9.4%, according to figures from the 2015 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings.

One other notable trend that has emerged in the past few decades is the rise in self employment – 4.5 million people are now self employed, according to the report. Whether that is through individual choice or lack of employment possibilities is hard to say.