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Overworked managers, under-supported staff

Joe Wells

The CIPD have launched the first comprehensive measure of job quality in the UK. While revealing that 64% of the UK workforce are broadly satisfied with their jobs, 11% reported regularly feeling miserable at work. Exploring seven different dimensions of job quality, the UK Working Lives survey has pinpointed just how ‘good’ our jobs are.

On April 11 the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, launched their UK Working Lives survey. The survey has comprehensively measured just how ‘good’ UK jobs are, and comes at a time when the government is firmly committed to measuring job quality. This measurement is entirely necessary, for as Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the CIPD has explained, “in order to create quality jobs, you have to be able to know one when you see one”.

The survey used seven prominent dimensions of job quality as a framework to ensure that all aspects of what makes a job ‘good’ were measured, these included factors such as health and well-being, and terms of employment. The findings were collected between December and January (2017/18), and came from a sample of approximately 6000 respondents. This sample was representative of the entire UK workforce, covering workers within every occupational level, sector, region and age group.

Overall, the outlook is positive. Two-thirds of workers (64%) were satisfied with their job’s overall, with just one in five (18%) dissatisfied, and on a day-to-day basis, just over half of workers (53%) said that they ‘always’ or ‘often’ felt enthusiastic about their jobs. What became clear from the survey’s findings was that health and well-being ranked as the most important factor in influencing job quality. As Jonny Gifford, senior adviser for organisational behaviour at the CIPD has said, “the message is clear [from the survey], healthy workers are happy and productive workers”.

While in general the workforce seem satisfied, a variety of problems do emerge for a significant number of those within specific areas of the workforce. These issues became particularly noticeable across three broad occupational levels of the workforce, and demonstrated the different challenges facing employers and HR professionals:

The stuck workers in low-skilled jobs
UK workers in low skilled and casual jobs suffer from a lack of skills training and development opportunities. More than a third (37%) noted that they hadn’t received any training in the last 12 months, and two in five (43%) don’t think that their current job offers them good opportunities to develop their skills. This is a deeply worrying trend, for it clearly hampers the opportunity for workers in this occupational group to progress and develop.

The majority of those within this group were found to have the qualifications for the job, and occasionally were over-qualified, but worryingly these do not appear to be skills that employers are building and investing in. The fact that low skilled and casual workers also do not appear to get as much time with their line manager as colleagues in more senior roles also reinforces this. Less than half of this group of workers have had a one-to-one meeting with their line managers in the last year.

The squeezed middle managers
A worrying pattern also emerged among those working in middle management roles. While this group of workers reported a high level of job satisfaction, findings also revealed a section of the workforce that were overworked and overloaded. More than a third (35%) of these workers said that they find themselves with too much work to do. as a result of this, it is not also surprising that almost one in four (23%) middle ranking employees regularly felt under excessive pressure.

Clearly the amount of responsibilities being placed on middle ranking employees has in many cases become excessive. Furthermore, these findings could at least also partially explain the tendency for this group to be more concerned about the effect of work on their physical and mental well-being. Three in ten (28%) stated that their work has had a negative effect on their mental health. This is a sizable portion of middle managers, and is something that employers and HR practitioners need to be wary of.

The satisfied senior leaders
While the most senior portion of the workforce also exhibited challenges, they were statistically the happiest. 72% of this occupational group were satisfied with work, and they were also the most likely to associate work positively with health and well-being. They are also less likely to feel exhausted or bored in the workplace. However, work is not perfect for senior leaders. For this group, work-life balance stood out as the most prominent issue. Around a third (29%) of senior leaders and managers admitted that they found it difficult outside of work to fulfil personal commitments because of the amount of time they spend at work.

What can be done?
It is clear that a range of challenges exist across the workforce. More needs to be done by employers and HR professionals to ensure that these are resolved, with a whole range of measures available. For stuck workers, employers should offer clear pathways for progression, and could introduce things such as career conversation training with line managers to provide employees with the opportunity to progress. Providing employees with a voice is also crucial, and one way of doing this could be through developing mechanisms that ensure all workers have a meaningful voice.

To reduce workload and excessive pressure for middle managers, reviewing job designs and conducting a stress audit can allow employers to recognise where the workload being placed on mid-level employees is too great. Improving mental health would also be crucial for this group, and the introduction of designated mental health policies and the training of line managers to spot early warning signs would be highly effective. For senior leaders, encouraging the use of flexible working would allow a greater balance between work and personal commitments.

By using these three groups, it becomes clear that challenges exist at every level of the workforce. Through frequent measures of the standard of UK jobs, we can identify and fix any issues that arise. In doing this, we can strive towards a workforce in which ‘quality’ jobs are commonplace.

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