Job quality in the UK has been surprisingly unaffected by the Covid pandemic so far but continues to fall short on a number of key measures, according to the CIPD’s Good Work Index.

The report, which provides a window into the current state of work in the UK by measuring seven dimensions of job quality – such as pay and benefits, work–life balance, and health and wellbeing – finds there have been no material changes in the last year.

Of the 6,257 workers (representative of the UK labour market, including those on furlough in February 2021) who were surveyed for the report and gave an opinion: 

  • One in four said work is bad for their physical or mental wellbeing (23% and 25% respectively). In 2020, 26% and 27% of workers said this. 
  • Only half (52%) said work offers good opportunities for development, comparable with 48% that said the same in 2020. 
  • 30% report unmanageable workloads, similar to the 32% that said this in 2020. 
  • One in four (24%) report poor work–life balance, finding it difficult to relax in their personal time because of work – the same figure as 2020. 

This year’s Good Work Index does, however, find marked differences in job quality between occupations, with occupational status remaining a key factor in access to good work. For example, only a third of those in routine occupations who gave an answer say managers are good at seeking the views of employees or employee representatives (33%), compared with over half of those in higher managerial and professional occupations (55%). 

Similarly, those in routine occupations are much less likely to report having access to skills development (27%) as well, whereas 63% of those in higher managerial and professional roles say they do.

Furloughed workers were also found to be in occupations that are less likely to have good opportunities for skills development, with only 40% of those who gave an opinion saying their job offers opportunity to develop their skills. This compares with 54% of workers not furloughed.

Given that furloughed workers are most concerned about job security, and official data shows lower class occupations have been most at risk of redundancy during the pandemic, the report notes this as a particular concern. It calls for furloughed workers to have better access to skills development to give them longer term job security.

Another common thread identified in the Good Work Index is that most jobs come with trade-offs in different aspects of job quality. Nowhere is this more apparent than with home workers who’ve enjoyed greater autonomy than those going into work, but often report higher workloads. However, the report argues that these trade-offs don’t need to be inevitable and employers should challenge such assumptions. The same, the report says, is also true for lower paid occupations inevitably having less opportunities for skills development.

Mel Green, research adviser at the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, said:

"While the pandemic has had a huge impact on people and business, our data shows that there hasn’t been a dramatic shift in job quality. There are a number of possible reasons for this and it may well be that we are still in the calm before the storm.

“Employers should not, though, see this as an opportunity to take their foot off the pedal. In fact, our report highlights that there is much work to do to close existing gaps and improve job quality across the board.

“A strong economic recovery post-pandemic is not just about more jobs, but better jobs too. It may not be realistic to make all jobs great in all ways, but there are several dimensions to job quality and by being more creative with job design and HR practices, employers can and should make work better for everyone.”

As well as examining trade-offs in job quality, the CIPD says employers can improve work in a number of ways, such as:

  • Keep wellbeing high on the agenda, even when the pandemic subsides.  
  • Prioritise better skills development – especially for those in routine and semi-routine roles and those who’ve been furloughed.   
  • Monitor workloads and put enough resource in place to avoid overwork – especially for remote workers and key workers. 
  • Review flexible working options to address the work–life balance challenges your workforce faces. Look beyond remote working and give people a choice in flexible working arrangements. 

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