Our Working Lives Scotland report, based on a survey of over 1,000 Scots, is now in its fourth year – spanning periods of time just before, during and after the pandemic. It is unique in its insights around Scottish job quality changes and continuity over time and has become an invaluable source of information for people professionals, employers and policy-makers. This article summarises the key findings from the Working Lives Scotland 2023 report.
Fair work in 2023
The survey continues to show remarkable stability across all fair work dimensions, providing further evidence that job quality is rather resistant to change. Of course, this doesn’t just mean good jobs stay good – worrying gaps around flexibility, job autonomy and employee voice persist too.
We found the highest level of presenteeism so far, with 58% of all employees saying that they went to work despite not feeling well enough to do so. In addition, around a quarter say their work impacts negatively on their mental (25%) or physical (27%) health.
We continue to find additional challenges across some aspects of fair work for women, disabled employees or those with caring responsibilities. For example, women tend to report higher experiences of mental health conditions, disabled employees have much higher rates of presenteeism or underemployment and carers struggle with work-life balance.
Impact of the cost-of-living crisis
While the tightness of the labour market is reflected in good job security, we see a clear impact of the cost-of-living crisis on job quality in our findings. There are year-on-year drops in the ability to meet financial commitments across all income bands, although they are understandably much worse for those on the lowest incomes.
Concerningly, we see a fifth (20%) of all employees lose sleep over money worries, with 13% reporting health problems and 11% finding it hard to concentrate. Furthermore, nearly a third (32%) say their employer is not doing enough to support their financial wellbeing. With inflation remaining elevated, it is imperative that employers continue to look after their employees through the reward package, but also career progression, skills development and flexible work.
Poorer job quality for key workers
The increase in collective employee action over the winter months, continuing to this day in some areas, has put job quality into sharper focus, especially for those who work in sectors with limited homeworking options.
As highlighted in previous Working Lives Scotland reports, we continue to see significant gaps in fair work for those in so-called key worker roles. In fact, with the notable exception of the meaningfulness of work, we find key workers do poorer across most job quality aspects. From lower objective and subjective pay, through higher workloads and feelings of exhaustion, to poorer formal and informal flexibility – the drivers for collective action are broad.
Persistent flexible working gaps
The only pandemic-driven change in job quality that remains a feature of Scottish working lives is the boost in the levels of home and hybrid working. These are now embedding even further, with the preferences of the vast majority of workers matching their current ways of working. We do, however, see signs of some reluctant returning to the office for some and an increase inchallenges around relationships with colleagues for those primarily working from home.
Perhaps most importantly, nearly half (44%) of all Scottish employees either can’t (33%) or don’t want to (11%) work from home at all. If employers want to unlock the benefits of flexible working (both for their employees and themselves by way of retention and recruitment), they need to look beyond homeworking.
Employee voice challenges
Most concerningly perhaps, the positive improvements in employee voice scores we found over the last two years have disappeared in this year’s survey. While it doesn’t necessarily follow that employers have rolled back on the level of staff engagement they boosted during the pandemic, it does highlight that employee perceptions of the effectiveness of their voice have taken a hit.
The changes are probably linked to the cost-of-living crisis, the levels of collective action and the media coverage thereof. Regardless of the reasons, employers, managers and employee representatives need to redouble their efforts in this area.
The cost-of-living crisis continues to cast a shadow over the working lives of people across Scotland. We have seen a considerable worsening of employees’ financial wellbeing year on year, with real impacts on their daily lives. Better pay is important, but there are many other steps employers can take to improve their employees’ lives.
Focusing on job quality is key – from an improved benefits package and job design, through better skills development and career advancement pathways, to effective two-way communication and broader flexibility, getting all these aspects right can make work fairer.
Overall job quality has barely been impacted by the pandemic, but that means that serious gaps persist. All jobs have the potential to be better, but employers and governments need to know what to address. Our reports will continue to help them in this task.
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