The CIPD has today launched its annual benchmark of working life in the UK. It is calling on the people profession to help ensure job quality doesn’t take a backseat in the quest to protect jobs and rebuild the economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The CIPD Good Work Index reveals a worrying decline in health and well-being over the past two years and highlights that some jobs are undeniably better than others – not just in terms of essentials like pay and contracts, but also in terms of our day-to-day experiences of work and its impact on our lives.   

While some differences in job quality are inherent to the nature of work and the structure of the labour market, the report finds that changes in people management and employment practices could significantly improve job quality in many cases. In particular, it finds that two often over-looked dimensions of job quality – job design and relationships at work – could make a big difference to working lives and to performance at work.

The report highlights occupations which lead to particularly poor experiences for workers and those where there are trade-offs to be made between different aspects of job quality, such as pay and wellbeing. For example, while managerial and professional occupations tend to score well across most aspects of job quality, those working in highly paid jobs in legal services, healthcare and conservation report the poorest work–life balance and overall health and wellbeing scores. Meanwhile, those working in low-paid jobs in animal care, housekeeping, cleaning and sports and fitness report better wellbeing, work–life balance and relationships at work. 

Jonny Gifford, Senior Research Adviser at the CIPD, comments: ‘In the current context, it’s important to consider the dynamics of job quality as we assess the impact of COVID-19 on jobs – not just in terms of insecurity and redundancies but also in terms of pressure, stress, work–life balance and pay. We need to understand how the short- and long-term impacts of the pandemic might differ across occupations and how we can protect the most vulnerable. This crisis is an opportunity to re-imagine what good work means to all of us and our Good Work Index provides a wealth of evidence to inform that debate.’

What is the Good Work Index and why does it matter?

Good work is fundamental to individual wellbeing, supports a strong, fair society, and creates motivated workers, productive organisations and a strong economy. The CIPD’s purpose is therefore to champion better work and working lives by improving practices in people and organisation development for the benefit of individuals, the economy and society. 

The CIPD Good Work Index measures job quality across seven key dimensions, from the perspective of a representative sample of more than 6,000 workers in the UK. The data for this year’s report was collected just before the COVID-19 pandemic, so it provides an insightful snapshot of the UK jobs market at this important juncture. While the pandemic will undoubtedly have a huge impact on job quality and the shape of the labour market for years to come, the Good Work Index examines the wider landscape and longer-term trends in job quality.

Supplementary surveys conducted during the pandemic will shine further light on which elements of job quality have been most impacted and which trends appear to be here to stay.  Combined, this data provides a useful basis on which to target initiatives to improve job quality and reduce inequality.   

Peter Cheese, CIPD Chief Executive, comments: ‘Job creation and protecting jobs from redundancy are crucial, but it’s not enough to look at the bare numbers of people in work. Now as much as at any time, government, employers, the people profession, trade unions and other actors also need to understand the quality of the jobs people do and find ways to improve them.’

What can the people profession do to improve working lives?

While some job quality issues may be inherent to the nature of the jobs in question, the Good Work Index shows that some low-quality jobs could be improved relatively easily by changing people management and employment practices. In fact, the report suggests that a better line manager could do more to improve a person’s job satisfaction than giving them a pay rise. 

At a minimum, people professionals should be encouraging and supporting line managers to: 

  • discuss workload with their team members and ensure no one is under excessive pressure
  • have supportive and sensitive discussions with their teams
  • promote existing health and wellbeing benefits
  • give workers more autonomy or control over how, when and where they work.

Training and support for line managers is clearly crucial, but what else can people professionals do? The seven key dimensions of job quality are a good place to start for any HR team wanting to assess the quality of work its organisation offers. 

The survey data provide a useful benchmark against which you can look for specific areas that need urgent attention in your organisation, but a holistic people strategy should also address each dimension of good work through the lens of: 

  • values, culture and leadership;
  • workforce planning and organisational development; 
  • employment relations; and
  • people analytics and reporting.

The people profession has an important role to play in championing better work and working lives; in fact it’s the fundamental purpose of the profession. By creating roles, opportunities, organisations and working environments that help get the best out of people, the people profession can deliver great organisational outcomes. In turn, this drives our economies and makes good, fair and inclusive work a reality.

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Championing better work and working lives

About the CIPD

At the CIPD, we champion better work and working lives. We help organisations to thrive by focusing on their people, supporting economies and society for the future. We lead debate as the voice for everyone wanting a better world of work.