Contrary to popular belief, most Britons are happy with their lot at work, according to new research – with more two million preferring work to home. But the picture is not a rosy one for everybody.
A survey of 1,000 people of working age by The Work Foundation found that two thirds of Britons are either satisfied or very satisfied with their job while eight out of ten say that they are happy with their life in general.
But that still leaves some 15 per cent of the working population - or four million people – who are dissatisfied, leading to higher rates of turnover, lower levels of customer satisfaction and ultimately lower levels of productivity.
The group least satisfied with all aspects of life are the unemployed. More than half the sample did not believe life was good nor that they had achieved their goals.
At the other extreme, and again in line with many other surveys, the self-employed come out feeling considerably happier with their lot than all other groups despite working the longest hours - a quarter put in more than 51 hours a week.
Also happy with their lot are the 2.4 million "workophiles" who prefer work to home. Most are in higher income brackets and probably not bringing up children.
For most of those working more than 50 hours a week, rewards are good. One in five people earning £60,000 working more than 60 hours a week and almost seven out of ten of those earning between £46,000 and £51,000 work up to 60 hours a week.
In total, two-thirds of the population are working more than 35 hours a week and more than a third (36 per cent) work more than 40 hours a week.
But for about 400,000 workers, life is less rosy. These "wage slaves" earn less than £16,000 for working more than 60 hours a week, and four out of ten fear of losing their job if they do not put in such long hours. Indeed those earning less than £16,000 per annum are nearly six times as likely to fear the sack if they don't put in the time as those on more than £41,000 per annum.
Nick Isles, the report’s author, said: “It should not be possible for people to work more than 60 hours a week and be paid less than £11,000 a year. The Government needs to strengthen the mechanisms for inspecting and reporting bad practice in this area.”
Nevertheless, the report asserts, “Britain’s long hours problem is exaggerated. Much long hours working is voluntary and many people enjoy putting in the time and effort. Whether it is a smart way of working is a moot point.”
Another strong message to come out of the survey is that pay is generally less important to people than the content of the job and fulfilling personal ambitions. Almost half of respondents are very satisfied with their pay and six out of ten are very satisfied with the hours they work. More than four out of ten even believe that their most important relationships are at work
Employers, however, have less reason to be cheerful. Over a third of those surveyed are actively or planning to look for a new job. In terms of the currently active job-seekers over a fifth are looking for a new job, especially within the younger age groups.
People in the 16-24 year old category are twice as likely as those in the 45-54 year old age group to be starting a new job (10.3 per cent compared with 5.7 per cent). Women are twice as likely as men to be considering moving – 29.5 per cent compared with 14.3 per cent.
One reason for such high rates of job hopping is the general erosion of job security and with it, employee loyalty, a trend that the report bemoans.
“Employers should consider rehabilitating the old and outmoded notion of job security,” it says. “This does not mean guaranteeing jobs for life, but instead being very clear about the ‘employability for life’ that they offer. If employees are confident about their ability to get work because of the way in which they are developed, they are likely to be more motivated and feel more secure. And in a service economy employee motivation correlates strongly with customer satisfaction and retention. Secure workers are happier workers.”
Inevitably, relatively high levels of job satisfaction do not disguise the fact that many people want more control over when and where they work.
Six out of ten want to work fewer hours – seven out of ten men and half of women. But one in five want to work more hours. Meanwhile, about a fifth of respondents are working flexible hours, with nearly a quarter planning to in the future. But more than half have no such plans.
"On the whole work works,” said Nick Isles, “but insecurity, lack of control, top down management all create a less productive and less competitive economy and less motivated and more dissatisfied workers.
"Work should be a joy. It is incumbent on all of us, Government, workers and employers to seek to make work more fun, fulfilling and effective. Then for the vast majority it could truly be said - to quote Noel Coward - ‘work is more fun than fun’.”