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Key points

  • The proportion of employees who experience low job satisfaction, low job security, and low autonomy have decreased since 2010/11, while the proportion experiencing low job wellbeing slightly increased.

  • The measures of negative job quality that are most strongly associated with ‘less than good’ (fair or poor) health are low wellbeing, low job satisfaction and low job security, reported by 11.2%, 12% and 6.4% of employees respectively.

This chart shows the proportion of employees reporting different aspects of low job quality for 2010/11 and 2018/19. Each individual’s experiences at work are assessed according to five aspects of job quality: job satisfaction, job well-being, job autonomy, job security and pay. 

Low-quality work can be just as bad for health as unemployment. This can be due to workplace hazards and conditions, but also stress and anxiety created by a lack of control or autonomy, job insecurity or insufficient income due to low pay. Low pay is the most common form of low job quality experienced by UK employees, with 19.2% of employees experiencing this in 2018/19. This had changed little since 2010/11 when the level was 20.5%. At the same time as being the most common negative job quality aspect, people on low pay were least likely to report a health issue, compared to people experiencing the other measures of low quality.

Low job security was the least commonly experienced measure of low quality (6.4% of employees). This has also changed the most across the period, having nearly halved from 12.3% in 2010/11. This may reflect the relative strength of the labour market over this period.

Despite 2010/11 to 2018/19 being a period of strong employment growth, there were no substantial improvements in job quality outside of insecurity. This highlights 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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