Work and wellbeing

Hard work? Employment, work-life balance
and wellbeing in a changing economy

  • Job insecurity and poor working conditions can have adverse long-term consequences for employees. In the current recession, we examine the wellbeing of people in work and the balance between their jobs and their non-working lives.

    SS_Work _and _wellbeing _Intro _Left

    Highlights

  • Job quality

    Several aspects of job quality have deteriorated since before the recession. People in work are now more likely to be concerned about job security. Many also report receiving pay cuts and that their work has become less interesting.

    The proportion of workers saying it is ”very true” that their jobs are secure has fallen from 32% in 2004 to 23% in 2010.

    SS_Work _and _wellbeing _Fact1

    Highlights

  • Job quality

    Several aspects of job quality have deteriorated since before the recession. People in work are now more likely to be concerned about job security. Many also report receiving pay cuts and that their work has become less interesting.

    One in five workers (22%) say they have taken a pay cut in the past three years, while one in four (24%) say they have had to do less interesting work over the past three years.

    SS_Work _and _wellbeing _Fact2

    Highlights

  • Job satisfaction

    Despite this fall in job quality, those in work are glad to have a job. Workers’ ratings of satisfaction with work and work-life balance are actually higher on average than before the recession.

    On average, workers rate their satisfaction with their job as 7.3 out of 10, compared with 6.9 in 2006. This is similar among men (7.2) and women (7.3).

    SS_Work _and _wellbeing _Fact3

    Highlights

  • Job satisfaction

    Despite this fall in job quality, those in work are glad to have a job. Workers’ ratings of satisfaction with work and work-life balance are actually higher on average than before the recession.

    Satisfaction with work-life balance is rated at 6.3 on average. This has also increased slightly from 6.0 in 2006.

    SS_Work _and _wellbeing _Fact4

    Highlights

Introduction

Pullquote _Work _and _wellbeing _1While economists and politicians argue over the causes of and potential remedies for the double-dip recession afflicting Britain, its human consequences are most obviously observed in the labour market - through increased unemployment and a heightened sense of insecurity among those who remain in work. Although unemployment rates have fluctuated in Britain during the past four years there are about a million more people out of work than there were before the start of the economic crisis (Office for National Statistics, 2012). We know that people who lose their jobs often experience a decline in their general sense of wellbeing (McManus et al., 2012), and that those who are unemployed or economically inactive tend to experience poorer mental health than people in work (Clark et al., 2011). But having a paid job is by no means a guarantee of wellbeing. It can hold negative as well as positive consequences for the way people feel about themselves (Green, 2012). On the positive side, in addition to income, it may provide opportunities for self-development and social interaction. But it can also be a source of stress. For example, quality of employment is known to impact on people's health, life expectancy and life chances (Coats and Lehki, 2008). Thus, jobs associated with better health and wellbeing are generally those with more variety, autonomy, security and better workplace relationships as well as financial rewards (Bryson et al., 2011). It is possible that these aspects of work might have been influenced by the recession. The balance that people maintain between paid work and their home lives is another aspect of personal wellbeing that might be affected by the economic downturn. On the one hand, it is possible that some individuals who find themselves out of work or working reduced hours will see an improvement in some aspects of their work-life balance; for example, by having more time available for family commitments and leisure activities. Indeed, one recent study found that families eat together more when their level of work becomes less intense (Hall et al., 2011). People who keep their jobs may also find that lower levels of workplace production require them to work less hard. On the other hand, we can anticipate that any increase in job insecurity and reduction in household income will serve to aggravate family tensions and financial strains. And where organisations have cut staffing to achieve efficiency savings, the consequence may well be to increase, not reduce, the demands made of employees who remain.

In this chapter we use responses gathered in Britain for the European Social Survey (2004, 2006 and 2010) as well as data from British Social Attitudes (2005, 2009 and 2010) to discover how people's experiences of work have changed and whether they feel that their job quality has improved or declined.1 In a time of recession, we examine people's working hours, pay and overall sense of security in the workplace. Do more people feel obliged to work harder than they did and has their overall sense of job satisfaction increased or declined? In exploring these issues we pay particular attention to gender differences, and whether certain experiences and views relating to work are more typical of men or women. Has the way in which people think about women's and men's roles in the workplace and at home changed? We also look more generally at people's views concerning work-life balance and how these relate to their satisfaction, happiness and wellbeing.

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Notes
  1. British Social Attitudes and European Social Survey analysis excludes Northern Ireland, whereas OECD data are based on the whole UK. Various terms are used in this chapter to refer to people in paid work (for example, "workers", "people in paid work", and "employed people"). They all denote everyone who is either an employee or is self-employed, who usually works 10 hours or more a week, and who considers work to be their main activity.
  2. Part-time work was defined as working less than 35 hours per week.
  3. Bases for Table 6.5 are as follows:

    NT_Work _and _wellbeing _6.5
     
  4. The fourth Work-Life Balance Employee Survey was conducted by NatCen Social Research for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
  5. This includes people who say they "always", "often", "sometimes" or "hardly ever" do this, but excludes those who say they "never" do.
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