working conditions
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Open Access Government lifts the lid on a recent survey about working conditions today which reveals that most employees can work smarter, given the chance

In a new survey concerning working conditions today in the UK, we learn that over half (58%) of employees can identify changes at work which would make them more work productive. Most employees can work smarter, given the opportunity.

These are the findings of a study published in July 2018 by The Skills and Employment Survey 2017 (SES), along with researchers from Cardiff University, UCL Institute of Education and Nuffield College, Oxford. A staggering 3,300 workers from across the UK, between the ages of 20 to 65, were interviewed in research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Department for Education and Cardiff University.

The study reveals that efficiency-enhancing ideas are more frequently offered and acted upon in organisations where employee involvement is high. Such employers give their employees more autonomy to decide how to carry out their jobs and are more supportive of those they manage. We discover that 28% of those whose line manager is highly supportive are in jobs which also provide workers with the chance to express efficiency enhancing ideas, in comparison to just 13% of those who said that their managers are less supportive.

We also learn that many employees long for the chance to tell employers what should be done with 18% of them saying that their suggestions could well increase their own productivity greatly. These changes include:

  • “Being allowed to put more ideas forward rather than being told what to do by people who can’t do it” (a machine operator working for a chemicals company).
  • “The skills of the team need to be up-to-date; this would make me more productive. So, I wouldn’t have to check their work all the time like now” (a foundry technician working for a bronze sculpting company) and;
  • “Better connectivity internationally, such as video conferencing between Singapore, Denver and London offices” (a business analyst working in banking).

The survey also shows that one in eight (13%) employees had put forward ideas the past year to management and/or their colleagues which had contributed greatly to increasing efficiency. No less than 70% had taken more direct action by creating efficiency-enhancing initiatives themselves or with their colleagues.

‘Productivity at Work: the Workers’ Perspective’, one of three reports published in July, says: “More needs to be done – and can be done – to raise productivity…Greater involvement of workers is the key, but this is where management practices have taken a backward step in recent times with sluggish productivity (being) one of its unwelcome consequences.”

The findings also show that only a quarter (25%) of those surveyed strongly agreed that their employer treated employees in the business fairly. Researchers say this could have a knock-on effect on job performance, given that those with a high sense of organisational fairness are more willing to go the extra mile.

While women have not only caught up but have overtaken men in occupying jobs that require higher education qualifications over the last two decades, the researchers note: “Much still needs to be done to translate greater gender equity in jobs skills into equal pay as evidenced by the persistence of the gender pay gap.”

Alan Felstead, Research Professor at Cardiff University’s School of Social Sciences, says: “Britain has a longstanding labour productivity gap with international competitors, despite British employees working more intensively than many other nations. Our research seeks to understand the role of employees in sparking a much-needed reversal in this state of affairs.

“The big message coming out of our findings is that workers have great ideas about how productivity could be improved. Growth is unlikely to come from simply increasing the supply of skills; employers need to harness the views of their workforce and treat them fairly. This will give us a better chance of closing the productivity gap.”

Finally, the researchers explain that the incidence of technical change at work has fallen sharply across all occupational groups since 2012 and that these changes have become less demanding in terms of skills.

“Not so long ago, computers were only used by the most educated, but nowadays they have become a general purpose technology found in virtually all organisations and industries, and used by most workers”, comments Professor Francis Green of the Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES), UCL Institute of Education.

“While this technology was being rolled out it meant that everyone had to become more skilled, but in the last decade the incidence of technical change at work has been falling, and since 2012 the required level of literacy and numeracy skills at work has fallen for the first time.”


Links for further information:

The Skills and Employment Survey 2017:

Cardiff University:

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC): 

Department for Education:

Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and

Societies (LLAKES):

Job quality quiz:


Open Access Government


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