Zero hours workers “as happy as permanent staff”

New CIPD research reveals positive aspects of controversial contracts

Zero hours contracts (ZHCs) often receive a bad rap, but research from the CIPD shows they’re more popular with employees than you might expect. A representative survey of people on ZHCs found they experienced similar levels of job satisfaction, wellbeing and work-life balance as staff on permanent contracts.

The CIPD results suggest that 65 per cent of ZHC workers are either very satisfied or satisfied with their job, compared with 63 per cent for all employees. Those on ZHCs are also more likely to say they have the right work-life balance (62 per cent compared with 58 per cent for all employees). And they are less likely to feel under excessive pressure at work on a frequent basis (32 per cent compared with 41 per cent for all employees).

The majority of workers (88 per cent) on these contracts told the survey that it is their choice to work part time. However, 22 per cent would like to work more hours, compared with 18 per cent of all voluntary part-time employees.

The findings will come as a surprise for some, as ZHCs have been linked with work-related stress in other studies, including recent research from the University of Cambridge. It found that rising job insecurity and uncertainty brought about by ZHCs, short hours or minimum hour contracts has led to a significant increase in work-related stress.

And concerns about employers abusing ZHCs led the government to ban exclusivity clauses that had prevented employees working for more than one organisation.

Ensuring that this type of contract is used responsibly will become even more important, as the CIPD estimates that the number of people on them will grow to 1.3 million this year, up from 1 million in 2013.

Peter Cheese, CIPD chief executive, said that while ZHCs are becoming a permanent feature of the UK labour market, they are often portrayed as low-quality jobs on unfair terms, which are inferior to permanent, full-time contracts. But he said: “People working on these contracts don’t always see their jobs in such a negative light. One positive is the flexibility they can offer to those who otherwise may not be able to find work that suits them, but less involvement in the workplace may be a negative. That’s why it’s important to understand that this type of working arrangement may not suit everyone.

“Our report highlights that the contract type isn’t usually the main factor driving someone’s job satisfaction. How people are managed, the workload they are under and their relationship with their line manager are generally more important.”

Nil points – reasons employers use ZHCs

  • 66% Manage fluctuations in demand
  • 51% Provide flexibility for the individual
  • 46% Supply coverage for staff absences
  • 21% Part of broader cost-saving strategy
  • 18% Uncertain business conditions

Read the Zero-hours and short-hours contracts in the UK research