One in three UK workers in ‘low quality’ jobs that could be affecting their health

Employers told to look at how management and job design affect wellbeing, as figures show those in underpaid or unfulfilling roles are twice as likely to report poor health

More than one in three UK workers is in a low-quality job that could be affecting their health, a think tank has warned, as experts call on businesses to look at how management and job design can affect employee wellbeing.

Research by the Health Foundation found 36 per cent of UK employees reported being in roles where work was underpaid, unfulfilling or where they lacked the resources needed to carry out their jobs properly, and that workers in these roles were twice as likely to report poor health.

Of those in low-quality jobs, 15 per cent reported poor health, compared to just 7 per cent of those in higher-quality jobs.

Young people were disproportionately more likely to be in low-quality work – more than half (55 per cent) of those under the age of 25 reported being in low-quality work, compared to just 33 per cent of those over 25 – and those living outside London and the south were more likely to experience lower-quality work.

The report analysed data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study, which has surveyed around 40,000 households.

Adam Tinson, senior analyst at the Health Foundation and the report’s author, said low-quality work was broader than insecure or unpredictable work. “Low-quality work is where someone feels stressed and unfulfilled, whether that’s [down] to pay, insecurity, a lack of autonomy or a feeling of dissatisfaction. This can harm people’s health.

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“To boost job quality, employers should give greater consideration to job security, job design, management practices and the working environment.” 

Stephen Bevan, head of HR research development at the Institute for Employment Studies, said part of the problem was that too many organisations were putting their wellbeing budget into ‘wellness perks’ aimed at attracting and retaining talent. 

“Many [employers are] struggling to navigate the bewildering array of consultancies offering them solutions to their absence management, workplace stress or line management wellness training problems, but ignoring the fundamentals of people's jobs, their environment and their management,” said Bevan.

“Without addressing these root causes in job design, workplace context and management, then no wellbeing strategy has any chance of succeeding.”

The Health Foundation report noted that, with employment still at record highs, quality of work was becoming a bigger issue for many than the availability of work – a concern raised in the the 2017 Taylor review of modern working practices.

Today’s report also supported a number of the other recommendations in the Taylor review, including the importance of ensuring those on lower incomes have routes to progress at work and are treated with respect and decency.

“With the UK’s employment law set for review as it leaves the EU, there should be a particular focus on improving job quality to maintain and improve health,” said Tinson.