Employees less optimistic about employment relations than managers


The modern British workplace is one where there are fewer grievances between workers and managers, better relations with unions and - according to managers at least - a much better working climate.

That is the official message portrayed by the 2004 Workplace Employment Relations Survey by the Department of Trade and Industry – although while managers may think things are getting better, employees believe there has been only a modest improvement in employment relations.

Headline figures for the survey, which polled more than 3,000 managers, 1,000 employee representatives and more than 22,000 employees, were revealed a year ago, with the full survey published this week.

The survey, said the DTI, showed there had been "significant changes" in the workplace since the last survey was carried out in 1998.

Employers had become more aware of the importance of a good work-life balance but employees would still like to see their employers doing more to help them in this area.

Fewer workplaces were reporting grievances, union representatives were working more closely with management on changes in the workplace and more union representatives said managers were valuing their opinions.

Managers were in general more positive about the climate of employment relations but employees reported only a modest improvement.

The decline in union recognition had halted in larger workplaces and there had been substantial increases in the provision by employers of flexible working arrangements and greater provision of leave arrangements for parents.

Job security had also improved, with the proportion of employees feeling secure in their job rising from three-fifths in 1998 to two-thirds, while more employees said they got a sense of achievement from their jobs.

Minister for employment relations Jim Fitzpatrick said: "These results show that firms are increasingly taking the work-life balance of their employees into consideration, while employees are gaining a greater sense of satisfaction from their jobs.

"The findings will inform and guide debate to improve our understanding of how the British labour market operates and changes over time, and will be useful in identifying pockets of good, and not so good practice," he added.

Small firms reported higher job quality than larger organisations

The survey also found that, in general, small firms reported higher job quality than larger organisations, with employees saying they had more influence over the way they did their work and felt more secure in their jobs.

Among the findings originally published in 2005 was the fact that the use of performance appraisals was on the increase, with 78 per cent of managers now using them, up from 73 per cent in 1998.

Off-the-job training had also become more popular, and was now seen in 84 per cent of workplaces, against 73 per cent in 1998.

More workplaces involved non-managerial staff in problem solving or discussions about performance (21 per cent versus 16 per cent in 1998) and 83 per cent of workplaces now have part-time employees, up from 79 per cent in 1998.

The survey also found there had been a substantial increase in the availability of flexible working and leave arrangements in British workplaces since 1998.

The number of employers that offered home working had risen to 28 per cent, from 16 per cent in 1998.

Term-time only working was now available at 28 per cent of employers, up from 14 per cent.

Flexi-time had seen a similar rise, up to 26 per cent from 19 per cent, with job-sharing rising to 41 per cent from 31 per cent, parental leave to 73 per cent from 38 per cent and paid paternity leave shooting up, to 92 per cent from 48 per cent in 1998.

Manager also now had a much greater understanding of employees' responsibilities outside of work, said the survey.

Nearly two thirds of managers believed it was solely up to the individual to balance their work and family responsibilities, compared with 84 per cent in 1998.

More workplaces now had equal opportunities polices (73 per cent against 64 per cent in 1998), with policies on religion, sexual orientation and age all featuring prominently.

However, there had been little change in the proportion of workplaces where women were under-represented in management (72 per cent compared with 73 per cent in the previous survey).

Half of all employees were in workplaces with a recognised trade union, with around one-third belonging to a union, and 40 per cent having their pay set through collective bargaining.

Although the percentage of all workplaces with recognised unions had fallen since 1998, the decline was only evident among small workplaces.

Among larger workplaces, the rate of recognition had levelled off, after having fallen steadily throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said the survey showed unions were continuing to make a big difference in the workplace.

"People who work in unionised workplaces are less likely to be low paid; more likely to have a pension and proper equal opportunities polices; and are more likely to enjoy more than the legal minimum for both paid holiday and sick pay. You are better off in a union, it's official," he said.