A growing number of employees believe their job enables them to help other people, according to the National Centre for Social Research’s 23rd annual British Social Attitudes survey.
It says the most likely explanations are either that the shift to a service economy has meant an increase in the total sum of “people work”, or that “contemporary management strategies are tailored so as to encourage employees to think of their jobs as being helpful and useful”.
But the finding is important for employers because it suggests employees are getting greater ‘intrinsic’ rewards from their work – those intangible benefits beyond pay and job security, which mean they are likely to be better motivated and more engaged.
Since 1989, the proportion of male employees who believe they can help people through their work has climbed from 59% to 73%, while among female employees the proportion has risen from 69% to 79%.
Increasing numbers also believe that their job is useful to society. And while the proportion of male employees thinking this rose from just 54% to 58%, among female employees the proportion rose from 54% to 64%.
The National Centre for Social Research (known as NatCen) interviewed more than 3,000 people for the survey, which is part of a series investigating public opinions on issues as diverse as euthanasia, terrorism and trade unions.
…but we still do it just for the money
Workers may now be more inclined than they once were to believe they can personally help others as a result of their job, but is that important to them? The British Social Attitudes Survey has some mixed results.
Using two separate measures, it found that even by 1989 more than three out of five employees felt it was important that a job should allow someone to help others, and that it should be useful to society. Although women were already more inclined to think that work should be socially useful in 1989, the gap has widened considerably. While men’s attitudes have remained largely unchanged, nearly three-quarters of women now think work should be about helping others.
Despite this and the increasing trend towards intrinsic reward shown by the research, further detailed statistical analysis reveals there has been almost no change in the importance that men or women place on such rewards.
These findings contradict previous studies, which suggested that employees were moving towards a ‘post-materialist’ view in which the importance of financial rewards would decline as people sought greater job satisfaction, even when there was a cost in lower wages.
However, they do show that men and women are almost equally committed to the concept of paid work.
… and it interferes with home life
The research shows that most men and women want to work both for the financial rewards and for the personal satisfaction it gives them. But the majority also report that work interferes with their family lives.
For men, this problem is most apparent among those in intermediate occupations. Although men in professional and managerial jobs work longer hours, the report suggests they have less conflict between work and family life because their jobs permit greater flexibility.
For women, the conflict between work and family life is especially strong among those in professional and managerial jobs. The research shows that women in these occupations work longer hours and find it no easier to take time off for family reasons than those in other jobs.