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Key points

  • Nearly a quarter (22.8%) of employees in a low-quality job in 2012/13 were still working in a low-quality role six years later. 
  • Meanwhile, only 8% of employees in high-quality work experienced a reduction in job quality between 2012/13 and 2018/19.
  • 55.2% of employees in low-quality work moved to high-quality work between 2012/13 and 2018/19, compared to 73.7% of employees in high-quality work who stayed in high-quality work.

This chart looks at the persistence of low-quality work for people in employment between 2012/13 and 2018/19. Each individual’s experiences at work are assessed according to five self-reported aspects of job quality: job satisfaction, job wellbeing, job autonomy, job security and pay.

Changes in the quality of work may not actually mean material changes in the job, and could simply reflect changes or adjustments employees have made to the situation. Persistent negative job experiences could lead to someone experiencing a long period of worsening health, because of continued exposure to a negative psychosocial environment. However, there is likely to be a lesser impact on health from a shorter, temporary experience of these factors.

Overall, there was significant churn between roles of different job quality between 2012/13 and 2018/19:

  • Nearly one in ten employees in high-quality work moved into low-quality work (8%).
  • Nearly half of employees in low-quality work moved to high-quality work (55.2%). 
  • Nearly three quarters of employees were in a high-quality job in both 2012/13 and 2018/19 (73.7%). 
  • In both high- and low-quality work, a similar proportion of employees became unemployed (around 2%) and retired (approximately 10%). 
  • Nearly twice the proportion of employees in low-quality work (7.9%) became economically inactive as people in high-quality work (4.1%). This could reflect the worse health of people in lower-quality jobs, and potentially the more physically demanding nature of the roles. Nonetheless, job quality can stay the same for a large proportion of individuals, even over a longer time period.

Many employees find themselves stuck in low-quality roles, and this indicates the need for an active strategy to improve the quality of work.

This indicator adapts and builds on measures used by Chandola and Zhang and is based on available data from the University of Essex Understanding Society survey.

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 little to no autonomy
  • low job wellbeing – 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 most or all the time
  • low 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 aged 18–55 (self-employed people are excluded) and are specific to each job they hold.

Source: University of Essex, Understanding Society, The UK Household Longitudinal Study, 2022

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