06:07pm Monday 06 April 2020

Recession hits workplaces, but not employee attitudes

While these manifestations of labour market flexibility obviously are bad news for workers, they may have helped avert even worse outcomes – only 14 per cent of workplaces made compulsory redundancies. This might account for continued high levels of job satisfaction, which have actually risen since the survey was last conducted in 2004.

Adapting to survive

The 2011/12 Workplace Employment Relations Study has shown that few workplaces have escaped the effects of the economic downturn. In 90 per cent of workplaces, the senior manager responsible for personnel issues said that the recession had at least some adverse effect on the workplace. Three-quarters (76 per cent) of workplaces changed some aspect of their staffing practices in response to the recession. Most commonly this meant that wages were either frozen or cut, recruitment was put on hold, or work was reorganised among existing staff.

Around half (48 per cent) of employees in the public sector reported wage cuts or freezes, compared with just over one quarter (27 per cent) in the private sector. More than a third (36 per cent) of public sector employees reported an increase in workload, compared with 26 per cent in the private sector.

Broader improvements in other aspects of working life

Despite the adverse impact of the economic downturn, the report shows that a number of aspects of working life have improved since the survey was last conducted in 2004. For example:

  • Managers are communicating more with employees. Managers are now more likely to hold team briefings to keep staff informed about changes at work (up from 60 per cent to 66 per cent) and they are more likely to provide employees with information on workplace finances (up from 55 per cent to 61 per cent).
  • Training has been extended in the workplace. In 2011, 41 per cent of workplaces gave off-the-job training to the majority (80 per cent) of experienced employees in their largest occupational group, up from 35 per cent in 2004
  • Employees have more autonomy at work. There were small increases between 2004 and 2011 in the proportions of employees who have “a lot of influence” over how their work is done (from 50 per cent to 52 per cent), the pace of their work (38 per cent to 41 per cent) and their start and finish times (from 26 per cent to 31 per cent)

In other areas there has been stability, with the proportion of all employees that have an employee representative (such as a union shop steward) in their workplace remaining unchanged at 47 per cent between 2004 and 2011.

Improvements in job satisfaction

Most employees remained content with their jobs, despite the changes that were made to staffing practices through the course of the recession. Satisfaction with a range of aspects of employees’ jobs increased slightly between 2004 and 2011. However, there was a fall in the proportion of employees who were satisfied or very satisfied with their level of job security, down from 64 per cent to 59 per cent.

Alex Bryson, Principal Research Fellow at NIESR and one of the co-authors of the report, said: “The survey shows the scale of the effect that the economic downturn has had on Britain’s workplaces and employees, with many employees having to forego wage increases or increase their workload to help their workplace survive. But there are also signs that working life has improved in a number of respects for those who have been lucky enough to stay in work.”

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Notes for editors

  1. WERS is the sixth in series of workplace employment relations surveys. Previous surveys were conducted in 1980, 1984, 1990, 1998 and 2004. Interviews were undertaken with around 2,700 workplace managers and 1,000 employee representatives, whilst over 20,000 employees completed questionnaires. Fieldwork ran from March 2011 to June 2012 and was conducted by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen). Further information on WERS.
  2. The 2011 survey was jointly sponsored by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR). NIESR’s contribution was made possible by a grant from the Nuffield Foundation. The views expressed are those of the publication’s authors and not necessarily those of the five sponsoring organisations or the Nuffield Foundation.
  3. “The 2011 Workplace Employment Relations Study: First Findings” by Brigid Van Wanrooy, Helen Bewley, Alex Bryson, John Forth, Stephanie Freeth, Lucy Stokes and Stephen Wood is published by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (URN 13/535, ISBN 978-0-85605-770-0). Editors are welcome to reproduce any of the figures or tables contained in the publication. To obtain a copy please email: [email protected]
  4. All findings reported in the publication relate to workplaces with 5 or more employees
  5. Issued by The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
  6. NIESR is Britain’s longest established independent economic research institute with over sixty years’ experience of applying academic excellence to the needs of business and policy makers.
  7. The Nuffield Foundation, which funded NIESR’s contribution to the research, is an endowed charitable trust that aims to improve social well-being. It funds research and innovation in education and social policy and also works to build capacity in education, science and social science research
  8. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2012/13 is £205 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.

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