Quality of jobs unaffected by pandemic

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The CIPD is calling on employers to improve their understanding of ‘job quality’ and double down on efforts to make work a force for good – for people, business and society.

According to the HR body’s annual Good Work Index, job quality in the UK continues to fall short but has been surprisingly unaffected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The research measured seven aspects of job quality such as pay and benefits, work-life balance, and health and wellbeing but found little material change in the past year.

More than 6,000 workers, a representative sample of the UK labour market, including those on furlough, took part in the February 2021 survey. Key findings include:

  • 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;
  • Half (52%) said their work offers good opportunities for development, comparable with 48% that said the same in 2020;
  • 30% reported unmanageable workloads (32% in 2020);
  • One in four (24%) said they had a poor work-life balance, finding it difficult to relax in their personal time because of work – the same figure as 2020.

Mel Green, research adviser at the CIPD, 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.”

The research found that only a third of those in routine occupations said managers are good at seeking the views of employees or employee representatives (33%), compared with more than half in higher managerial and professional occupations (55%).

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

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 homeworkers 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.

“A strong economic recovery post-pandemic is not just about more jobs, but better jobs too,” added Green. “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 said employers can improve work in a number of ways, including:

  • Keeping wellbeing high on the agenda
  • Prioritising better skills development – especially for those in routine and semi-routine roles and those who’ve been furloughed
  • Monitoring workloads and put enough resource in place to avoid overwork – especially for remote workers and key workers
  • Reviewing flexible working options to address the work-life balance challenges the workforce faces.

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