• 11% of all employees report their health as less than good.

  • All employees with a low-quality job aspect are more likely to report their health as less than good.

  • Employees with low job security and low job satisfaction were the most likely to report poor health at 4% and 5%, respectively.

This chart shows the proportion of employees who report their health as less than good, for different aspects of reported low 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. This indicator applies measures used by Chandola and Zhang and is based on available data from the Understanding Society study. These are based on self-reported questions relating to autonomy, wellbeing, job security, satisfaction, as well as a measure of low pay.  

Low-quality work can be just as bad for health as unemployment. This can be due to workplace hazards and conditions, but also because of the stress and anxiety created by a lack of control or autonomy, job insecurity or insufficient income due to low pay.  

In every category, those with a measure of low job quality report having worse health than average for working-age employees. This is particularly prevalent for low job security and low job satisfaction, which have a stronger association with less than good health. 

  • 4% of employees with low job security and 3% of people with low job satisfaction report a poor health status, compared with an average of 1% across all employees.  
  • 20% of employees with low job satisfaction reported their general health to be fair or poor, compared with 12% of employees with low pay.  
  • The proportion of employees with low job security reporting a fair health status is 4 percentage points higher than the average across all employees.

Minimum employment standards should make sure the quality of work does not negatively affect people’s health, through measures such as enforcement and regulation. Employer awareness should also be raised to understand how work affects health and to encourage better job design.

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, 2016/17

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...

Explore the topics

Health inequalities

Money and resources





Neighbourhoods and surroundings

Coming soon

Family, friends and community

Coming soon

This is part of Evidence hub: What drives health inequalities?

Data, insights and analysis exploring how the circumstances in which we live shape our health