Job satisfaction in the public sector is at its highest level in four years and wider post-referendum optimism is evident among UK employees. However, there is still ample room for improvement in employee development and career progression, which employers must address quickly so as not to lose valuable talent.

This is according to the latest CIPD/Halogen Employee Outlook report. The survey of more than 2,000 employees found that 63% of employees are satisfied with their jobs, rising to two-thirds (66%) in the public sector, the highest level for that sector since autumn 2012.* However, public sector employees still report higher levels of pressure and exhaustion at work than any other sector. Two in five public sector workers (43%) say they are under excessive pressure at work at least once a week (all employees: 38%), and nearly half (46%) say they come home from work exhausted either always or often (all employees: 33%).

The report found evidence of post-referendum optimism among employees in all sectors:

  • More than half of employees (57%) believe it is unlikely they will lose their current main job, with one in ten (12%) saying they think it is likely.
  • Almost half (48%) feel there has been no change to their financial security since the start of 2016, and a similar number (47%) feel there will be no change in the next 12 months.
  • The majority of employees believe the Brexit decision will make little or no difference to:
    • Organisational costs (53%)
    • Workforce training and skill development (60%)
    • Investment in equipment and technology (61%)

Claire McCartney, Associate Research Adviser at the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, commented: “It’s fantastic to see such a leap in job satisfaction in the public sector since our last survey in the spring, especially in such uncertain times for the UK. There was a great deal of uncertainty before the referendum, so people might be feeling more settled, and many will be happy with the outcome based on their voting decision. Other reasons could include the optimism that usually comes with a new government, and it could be that some of the new messages we’re hearing on fairness and equality might be resonating with public sector workers.

“Despite this positive outlook from public sector employees, the fact remains that employees in this sector are most likely to suffer with excessive pressure at work and exhaustion. This shouldn’t be overlooked, as it can create real problems for employers and individuals. Previous research has shown that the public sector also has the highest levels of absence and number of employees coming into work ill by some margin, so it’s crucial that employers address these issues before workers burn out and satisfaction levels take a nose dive.”

The survey also found significant room for improvement in employee development and career progression across all sectors. A third of employees (33%) say they are unlikely to fulfil their career aspirations in their current organisation, over a quarter (27%) disagree that their organisation provides them with opportunities to learn and grow, and a similar number (24%) are dissatisfied with the opportunity to develop their skills in their job.

There is also a noticeable implementation gap between the training that employees find useful and the training they actually receive. For example, 92% of employees said they find job rotation, secondment and shadowing useful, but only 6% have received it in the last 12 months. Similarly, 81% said blended learning was beneficial, but just 4% have received it over the last year. On the other hand, only 59% of employees flagged online learning as useful for their development, but 25% have still received it, suggesting that learning and development investment may not be targeting the areas of most use to the workforce.

McCartney continues: “In today’s world of work, organisations are increasingly expected to think about the two-way employment contract, giving employees opportunity to develop transferable skills that will support them throughout their careers, not just in their current roles. This can be a mutually beneficial arrangement - employees can have more autonomy over their career paths, and employers can be more agile to shape their workforce to fit their business needs.

“But in order to hold up their end of the deal, employers need to position line managers to support employees’ career progression. This should include having regular development conversations with employees to help them take the steps needed to develop and fulfil their potential. They also need to choose training and development that is right for their staff, not just the most economical. To do this, they must ensure that they are listening to what their employees need in order to make sure training and development is relevant and effective enough to plug skills gaps, as well as improve employees’ ability to do their jobs well.”

Dominique Jones, Chief People Officer at Halogen Software, said: “To compete against rapidly changing market forces, organisations need to hire smarter, develop faster, and build a compelling and meaningful work experience for employees. They must start with a talent strategy aligned to the needs of both the organisation and its people. The most effective way to support that strategy is to make performance management an essential part of the day-to-work experience, and direct managers have the largest role to play here. They need to be provided with the tools, training and support to become skilled coaches who encourage forward-focused growth and development. This approach will ensure that whatever context the labour market finds itself in, organisations are ready to attract, engage, and retain skilled people, motivated to deliver results.”

Further highlights from the survey include:

  • Health and well-being: More than a third of employees (36%) believe their organisation supports employees with mental health problems either very or fairly well, and a quarter (25%) believe they do so either not very or not at all well. More employees were either not very or not at all confident (47%) rather than confident (43%) to disclose unmanageable stress or mental health problems to their employer or manager.
  • Over-qualification: A third (33%) of employees believe they are overqualified for their current role. Just 26% of those that believe they are overqualified for their roles are satisfied with their jobs compared to 68% who believe they have the right level of qualification.
  • Happiness at work: More employees say work makes them feel positive rather than negative. Employees are most likely to say that work makes them feel cheerful (29%) most or all of the time as opposed to any other feeling. This is followed by optimistic (20%), then stressed (17%) and relaxed (17%).
  • Financial well-being: The aspects of financial well-being most important to employees are: Earning a sufficient wage to enjoy a reasonable lifestyle (75%), being able to save for the future (55%), and feeling that they are being rewarded for their efforts in a fair and consistent manner (54%).

* Net score = +45 compared to +32 in Spring 2016

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