Three quarters of the UK workforce are satisfied with their jobs, research from the CIPD suggests. But most have a low opinion of their organisations and senior management, with the public sector showing the greatest gulf between workers and management.
The survey, exploring 1000 workers' perceptions of their current employment relationship, based on the concept of the "psychological contract", confirms a long-term trend of declining satisfaction that is most marked in the public sector.
While the findings are generally positive when it comes to workplace satisfaction, they also show that UK workers do not believe that their organisations or senior executives necessarily have their best interests at heart. Trust in senior management is not particularly high: only one in three people trust senior management "a lot" to look after their best interests.
The proportion of younger workers aged between 25-29 who express significant levels of trust in senior management is lower still at only one in five. Substantially more people in both the public and private sectors are willing to trust their immediate line manager than to trust the organisation as a whole. Over half of those surveyed say their performance is being measured all the time, and more than a quarter complain that they are under constant observation.
Significantly, the proportion of people who feel involved in workplace decision-making has fallen dramatically over the last 6 years from 66 per cent to 40 per cent. Whether this is because workplaces are becoming less consultative or because managers are placing less reliance on formal consultation processes and making use of more informal methods to secure commitment is unclear.
On a brighter note, satisfaction with work life balance has been increasing in the private sector over the last three years. There has also been a significant increase in satisfaction in the public sector over the last 12 months but no clear trend over the longer period. These findings reflect increased use of family-friendly policies and practices in both public and private sectors.
Mike Emmott, CIPD Adviser on Employee Relations says: "The general picture is that employee attitudes seem to be fairly stable. However, senior managers need to work much harder to win the confidence of the people they lead and manage. They must show that they care about the interests and well-being of their employees. "Many people feel that they are under constant scrutiny and these people are much more likely to feel dissatisfied and under stress than other workers.
These negative results arise from managers’ failure to create a climate of trust and an over-rigid style of management which discourages innovation.”
Levels of satisfaction, trust and commitment are all lower in the public sector than in the private sector, reflecting the findings of a recent Audit Commission report. Public sector employees were more likely to report dissatisfaction with higher levels of stress and less work-life balance, although in most areas of the public sector more workers feel that they are being fairly treated and they also state that employers’ promises have been kept.
Central government, however, fares particularly badly in all respects. People working in government departments and agencies consistently display more negative attitudes than those in other sectors. For example, only seven per cent of people in central government believe strongly that "the organisation cares about my opinions". Two out of five feel fairly treated by their mangers and supervisors compared with more than half in other sectors. Nearly 50 per cent say that "what happens at work isn’t really important, it’s just my job" – three times the percentage in the NHS.
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