British workers are generally more positive about the health benefits of paid work than before the pandemic, research has found, although younger employees are far less likely to share this sentiment.
The latest British Social Attitudes Survey, an annual poll of 3,000 people, found 94 per cent of those surveyed said that paid work was good for people’s mental and physical health, including 41 per cent who reported that it is ‘very good’.
This was up from 90 per cent who said paid work was good for people’s health in 2019, including 26 per cent who said it was very good.
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However, views were markedly different among young people. Just 14 per cent of those aged 18-24 felt that paid work was ‘very good’ for people’s mental health, while just one in four (23 per cent) said it was good for their physical health.
In comparison, 27 per cent of all adults said paid work was very good for mental health, while half (51 per cent) of those aged 65 and over said it was good for physical health.
The study also found differences in opinion based on people’s concern about the risk of coronavirus. Half (53 per cent) of those who said they were ‘not at all’ concerned about contracting Covid-19 viewed paid work as being positive for their health, compared to just 27 per cent of those who were ‘very concerned’ about catching the virus.
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Dr Zofia Bajorek, senior research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies, said that differences in attitudes among the youngest age group suggest they wanted something different from their work.
“These really interesting findings suggest that younger people are now looking for more than just pay when considering the benefits of work,” said Bajorek. “Issues such as health and wellbeing, flexible employment, skill use and progression and working for an organisation whose values match their own are also important for them.”
Bajorek emphasised that employers should take into account the changing attitudes of young people, an age group she said was concerned about working for firms whose values match their own. “This could become really important for employers to recognise when considering recruitment and retention,” she said.
Mel Green, research adviser at the CIPD, added that while the figures showed most people felt paid work is positive for people’s health, there is room for improvement. “Our own research shows that job quality continues to fall short on a number of key measures,” she said.
"While it may not be realistic to make all jobs great in all ways, employers can still make improvements by being more creative with job design and HR practices. This includes ensuring there is a wellbeing strategy in place to support all staff that takes into account new ways of working and prioritising skills development , particularly for those in routine and semi-routine roles," said Green.
The study, which was conducted by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), also revealed insights into people’s attitudes towards flexible working and returning to work after an illness.
Almost seven in 10 (68 per cent) of those surveyed said they supported a phased return to work for employees with health conditions: an increase of 14 percentage points since 2019.
In addition, 82 per cent of those who had permanently moved to home working in 2020 said they support allowances for home working for employees with health conditions.
Gillian Prior, deputy chief executive of NatCen, said the research showed that most age groups valued flexible working.
“As the government considers making flexible working the default approach for employers and individuals in the UK, this research provides a clear signal that the public, and younger generations in particular, increasingly demand working arrangements that support the health and wellbeing of employees,” she said.
The study concluded that while many people have a positive attitude towards the health benefits of paid work, those who were particularly negatively affected by the pandemic, such as young people, are likely to demand different things from their employers as a result of the changes they experience during the pandemic.