The job satisfaction “premium” formerly enjoyed by lower-paid employees over higher earners has disappeared, according to new research, with less autonomy and higher workplace intensity blamed for the levelling down in individual fulfilment.
In 1992, 73 per cent of lower earners reported high job satisfaction. Among those on larger salaries, the figure was just 59%.
However, research from the latest Economy 2030 Inquiry from the Resolution Foundation shows the percentage of those reporting high job satisfaction has now fallen to just below 60% for both groups. In other words, the supposed trade-off of lower remuneration for less stressful work no longer exists.
One meaningful factor has been a sharp decline in the number of those who have a say in decisions on how their work is done. The decline has been particularly stark among low earners, falling from 44% to 27% between 1992 and 2017.
Furthermore, the number of all workers who reported having to work at “very high speed” for most of the time nearly doubled during that same period, from 23% to 45%. The proportion saying they felt “used up at the end of the day” rose from 20% to 29%, with an already bigger increase among female workers.
The increase in “high speed” working and falling autonomy appears to be in line with the increase in jobs in areas like warehousing and supermarkets, where performance is often measured on how quickly employees can pick and pack orders, or examine items by the till. These sorts of roles are among the lowest-paid, with very little worker discretion on how to do the job.
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Viewed in the context of continuing staff shortages across the UK – which are being pushed by a surge in low-paid jobs, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies – these findings are a particular concern. The Resolution Foundation warns that firms looking for productivity gains are doubtful to find them simply by driving their workers already harder.
In fact, intense conditions such as these are often a drag on productivity as they ramp up stress levels. A report last year from Deloitte estimated that poor mental health costs UK employers anywhere between £42 billion and £45bn yearly.
As we appear from a crisis that proved the possible for new ways of working, employers across all sectors must now consider further policy changes to continue business resilience in the post-pandemic world. This is true across all pay grades, but particularly so in the case of lower earners.
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