Persistent gaps in fair work remain but change on the way, finds CIPD Working Lives Scotland 2022 report

Marek Zemanik, Senior Public Policy Adviser at the CIPD in Scotland. 

For the third year in a row, our Working Lives Scotland report further enhances our understanding of fair work in Scotland. Last year’s report revealed remarkable consistency in job quality, underlining how resistant good – and indeed poor – practice is to change. This year, we see a return to pre-pandemic findings, but there are also areas where change is embedding. Most importantly, persistent gaps in fair work remain and it is HR professionals, employers, and policy-makers that have the tools to make a difference here.

Hybrid working - a double-edged sword

One of the areas where change is likely to be persistent is in the rates of home and hybrid working, with over half of all employees working this way currently and planning to continue to do so in the future. Our survey finds some positives here, but also areas of concern. For example, those who work fully from home reported poorer relationships with their colleagues, with additional efforts required by employers to account for this. We see the importance of good management shine through in relation to flexible working, with these workers reporting much more positive relationships.

While hybrid workers can benefit from the additional flexibility in work location (not having to commute as much), they fare more poorly on work-life balance. . Employers need to take this into account when discussing and making decisions on returning to the office.

We also continue to see work having a negative impact on the mental and physical health of employees. Work is a contributory factor to many reported physical and non-physical conditions too. Presenteeism – going to work despite not being well enough to do so – continues to be a real problem, with nearly half of all employees reporting this. We know this can be linked to organisational cultures as well as management quality and our members can take the lead on positive changes here.

Job security up for those on the lowest salaries

One of the areas where we do see some difference year-on-year is in job security. We see employees’ likelihood to quit return to pre-pandemic levels, although we don’t find any evidence of the so-called ‘great rethink’. For those on the lowest salaries in particular, job security, as well as confidence in the labour market, improved.

However, we continue to see differences by occupational class and, by extension, salary bands when it comes to financial security. Only around a third of those on the lowest salaries said they can keep up with all their bills and credit commitments without any difficulty. The importance of financial wellbeing is likely to increase exponentially in the coming months and employers have just as crucial a role to play as governments. Key workers, in particular, continue to report lower average salaries as well as poorer subjective pay (whether they feel they are getting paid enough).

Improvement needed for skill development opportunities

As already mentioned, over half of all employees would like to work from home at least some of the time in the future. However, nearly a third of employees are in jobs that cannot be done from home and another 14% do not want to work from home at all in the future. Other forms of flexibility need to be promoted and made available by employers to make flexibility truly available to everyone. Our figures show that significant gaps in flexible work availability remain, meaning that too many don’t get to enjoy some of the positives associated with it – higher job satisfaction, better job autonomy, or improved quality of life.

Skills development opportunities and people management are identified as career progression enablers as well as barriers. Those whose career progression met or exceeded their expectation cite good training and management as factors. Conversely, those whose career progression has not met their expectations think it was a lack of skills development and poor management that acted as a break. Both of these can be improved by employers and practitioners.

Job fulfillment difficult to pin down

As in our previous two reports, we see significant differences across this fair work dimension around issues like job autonomy or job complexity, where higher occupational classes perform much better. On the other hand, we also found workloads that are too high, which are not confined to high or low-paying jobs and are instead linked to job design itself. Developing managers who can spot, communicate and address such concerns is crucial here.

Overqualification remains a concern, with 40% of those with higher university degrees feeling overqualified for the jobs that they are in. We also see much higher overqualification levels in lower occupational classes. Qualification and skills mismatches point to inefficiencies in the relationships between employers and the skills development system and it is primarily up to policy-makers to drive change in this area.

Voice scores up but many without voice channels

Encouragingly, we have seen a further uptick in some of the voice indicators we ask about. In particular, we have seen improvements in the responses received from employees working for SMEs. Combined with the sustained improvements in large organisations, we recorded the best voice scores for the private sector yet. This could be a reflection of the additional effort to communicate during the pandemic, but it needs to be sustained.

That being said, we still find significant gaps in direct and indirect voice channels, with nearly a fifth of employees reporting no voice channel at work at all, including team meetings or one-to-one meetings with managers. This continues to be a bigger problem for the smallest of organisations.

In conclusion, Working Lives Scotland 2022 finds some change, some return to pre-pandemic findings, but most of all continuity. Every job has the potential to be better, but none of the fair work gaps and challenges will close automatically. There is an opportunity for the people profession to drive change, improve Scottish working lives and boost wellbeing as well as productivity.