The succession of crises we’ve experienced over the last five years has amplified the importance of job quality even further. From shifts to new ways of working as a result of the pandemic, through skills and labour shortages, to financial wellbeing during the cost-of-living crisis – the world of work has had to adapt and will continue to do so. Good evidence is key to this.

The CIPD’s Working Lives Scotland is now in its fifth year. It spans periods of time just before, during the height of, as well as after the pandemic. It is unique in its insights around Scottish job quality changes and continuity over time. Outlined below are the highlights from this year.

Workplace conflict 

Over a quarter of all employees in Scotland experienced some form of workplace conflict, including being undermined, shouted at, insulted or discriminated against. Homeworkers were less likely to experience workplace conflict, but women and disabled employees report higher instances of conflict.
The impact of this on employee job quality is significant and underlines why tackling conflict should be an employer priority. Experiencing conflict at work has negative impacts on job satisfaction, health and wellbeing as well as task and contextual performance (like going above and beyond for your colleagues).

Improving line management, leading by example to foster a positive organisational culture and dealing with underlying job quality challenges like high workloads or stress should be key areas for our profession.

Growing unease across the public sector 

Concerningly, the falls in employee voice scores recorded in our 2023 survey have not improved. In fact, manager voice ratings have worsened considerably for public sector employees. And this is just one of a few worrying trends uncovered in the report.
Looking at our work centrality questions over time, we see signs of public sector employees growing increasingly detached from their jobs, with a higher proportion saying their job is just a way of earning money and no more. Similarly, there is a big drop in the proportion of public sector employees saying they feel inspired at work. 

These findings would suggest that significant budget pressures, combined with the cost-of-living crisis and strained public services is having a real impact on public sector employees.

Back to the office 

There has been an increasing number of media stories suggesting organisations are pushing back against homeworking. We see signs of this in our report too, with a gap starting to open up between employee home and hybrid working preferences and their actual working patterns.
Looking across our five-year series, we see a clear, gradual drop in the proportion of employees working fully or primarily from home – from a peak of 47% in 2021 to 39% in 2022, to 31% in 2023 and 25% in 2024.
Home and hybrid working preferences, however, have stayed relatively stable over the years, suggesting that employers who ask employees to return to offices risk inviting retention and recruitment challenges.

Skills development and learning gaps 

We again see that persistent gaps in skills development for those on lower incomes are not closing, with less than half of those on the lowest incomes saying their jobs offer good opportunities to develop their skills. Similarly, over a fifth of those educated below degree level have not received any form of training last year.

We see the biggest gaps in the smallest of organisations, where employees are considerably less likely to receive any training. A fifth of SME employees have received no training over the last 12 months, rising to 35% for employees in micro-businesses. 

Poorer job quality for disabled employees 

Lastly, we also find additional challenges across several job quality measures for disabled employees, not least the above-mentioned incidence of workplace conflict (particularly pronounced in experiences of discriminatory behaviour).
Highlighting the crucial importance of management, we find that disabled employees generally report poorer relationships with their managers as well as rating them lower across several questions. We also see disabled employees report a more negative impact of work on their physical health and poorer work–life balance across all three of our questions.

The Working Lives Scotland report series provides insight to policy-makers, employers and people professionals. It continues to show gaps and trade-offs around several aspects of job quality, with additional challenges for some groups of employees.  Understanding these differences is the first step to making jobs better for all. 

Access the full Working Lives Scotland report and get in touch if you’d like to know more.

About the author

Marek Zemanik, Senior Public Policy Adviser for Scotland

Marek joined the CIPD in October 2019. He leads the CIPD’s public policy work in Scotland, focusing primarily on fair work, skills and productivity. Prior to joining the CIPD, Marek spent nearly a decade working at the Scottish Parliament as a political adviser responsible for policy-making across devolved areas of public policy.

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