• 56% of employees in a low-quality job in 2010/11were still working in a low-quality role 2 years later.

  • 20% of all employees experienced a reduction in job quality between 2010/11 and 2016/17, while 14% of employees experienced an improvement in job quality in this period.

This chart looks at the persistence of low-quality work for people in employment between 2010/11 and 2016/17. Low-quality work is defined as employees experiencing two or more negative aspects of job quality. The quality of a job consists of a range of different aspects, such as the nature of the tasks in the job, the leeway available to perform these tasks, support from co-workers and management, pay levels and the presence of workplace hazards. Changes in the quality of work may not actually mean material changes in the job, and could simply reflect changes or adjustments made by the employees to the situation.  

If exposure to negative job experiences is transient, it may have less impact on health. If exposure is persistent it may lead to a long duration of worsening health through continued experience of a negative psychosocial environment. 

Overall, there was significant churn between roles of different job quality between 2010/11 and 2016/17. 

  • 20% of employees experienced a reduction in perceived job quality and 14% experienced an improvement in perceived job quality.  
  • 51% of employees were in a high-quality job in both 2010/11 and 2016/17. 
  • 28% of employees in a high-quality job in 2010/11 transitioned to a low-quality job by 2016/17.

The overall prevalence of low-quality work is likely to be slightly lower because this analysis includes only people in employment in both 2010/11 and 2016/17. It does not include new entrants to the labour market, who are more likely to have low-quality jobs.

The persistence of low-quality work experienced by many employees indicates the need for an active strategy to improve the quality of work. Many employees find themselves stuck in low-quality roles.

Apart from low pay, the chart constructs job quality indicators in line with the approach taken by Chandola and Zhang. Aspects of low-quality work are measured as follows. 

  • Low job satisfaction – employees who report feeling somewhat, mostly or completely dissatisfied with their job. 
  • Low job autonomy – across five dimensions of job autonomy, an average score indicating some (or a lot) of limitation. 
  • Job well-being – across six measures of emotional perceptions of jobs (whether it inspires feelings of tension, unease, worry, depression, gloom or misery), an average score indicating these feelings some, most or all the time. 
  • Job security – perception that job loss is either likely or very likely in the next 12 months. 
  • Low pay – earnings are below two-thirds of UK hourly median pay. 

The questions are asked of employees only (the self-employed are excluded) and are specific to each job they hold.

Source: University of Essex, Understanding Society, The UK Household Longitudinal Study

Further reading

Long read

What the quality of work means for our health

4 February 2020

About 13 mins to read

Long read

Read about how the quantity and quality of employment has changed over the last 10 years, and the...

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