How healthy is the average British workplace if so many of us would be willing to abandon it entirely?
February 28, 2023 12:44 pm
Would you still work if money was no object? If your immediate reaction was to scoff “absolutely not”, then you would be in agreement with over half (60 per cent) of other British workers, according to the results of a recent poll by recruitment firm Randstad.
The research, which surveyed 27,250 workers from around the world, found that while UK workers agreed that if money was no object, they would choose not to work, the international average was much lower, at 47 per cent. Victoria Short, Chief Executive of Randstad UK, concluded that our willingness – or lack of – to participate in the workforce appears to be a “peculiarly British problem”, potentially brought on by stressful working conditions.
How healthy is the average British workplace if so many of us would be willing to abandon it entirely? According to Short, the results suggest that UK employers “aren’t giving workers what they need”.
For many people, being forced to work from home during the pandemic highlighted just how off-kilter their work-life balance was. As a result, work-life balance has become a key priority for many British workers, with a 2023 report by recruitment firm Hays revealing that more than half (56 per cent) of British employees are willing to accept a lower-paid job in exchange for a better work-life balance. It also found that a third (33 per cent) of workers consider work-life balance to be the most “crucial consideration” when looking for a job.
Last week, a nationwide trial of a four-day working week proved a roaring success. By the end of the six month experiment run by the 4 Day Week campaign, almost all of the 61 employers involved expressed a keen interest in keeping a four-day working pattern. Employees reported levels of anxiety, fatigue and sleep issues decreased and improved mental and physical health. Most firms in turn were satisfied with staff performance and productivity was maintained – and even improved.
What all of these examples point to is an increased desire among British workers for better livelihoods. Not only that, but they tell us something about how capable, adaptable and willing people can be to work hard in their fields when their needs are met. Countless studies, including a recent one from the London School of Economics, have shown how happier workers are more productive.
British workers are making more demands of their employers across many industries, and that’s a good thing. After all, most of us spend the majority of our time at work — doesn’t it make sense that our working environment should be somewhere we want to be? I have friends who have walked away from highly paid jobs purely because of the stressful and cut-throat working environment they fostered, and are now much happier in jobs they enjoy despite taking a significant pay cut.
Even in the midst of tough economic times, studies like Randstad’s show that for British workers, money is not necessarily the be all and end all for everyone, with other things like flexibility and overall happiness becoming driving factors when choosing a job. Researchers from Oxford University found that while happy workers do not work more hours than their discontented colleagues, they are more productive within their time at work. “Treating your staff right is the way to success,” added Short. “That means more flexible, remote and part-time options, improving workplace culture, and doing more to ensure people don’t burn-out from stress and unrealistic workloads”.
I’ve had jobs where I’ve worked long into the night, struggled to make ends meet with the little pay I received and even had experiences of harassment and racial discrimination from my employer. It took me a long time to be in a position where I felt valued at work, and knowing how crucial that is for my own wellbeing and productivity, I’m encouraged by the push for better conditions from employers.
All of these factors speak to a certain zeitgeist — many workers are no longer willing to work long hours, work for little pay, or both, to the detriment of their lives. In varying capacities, British workers are finally wrestling some power back from their employers. Who knows? In 10 years time, perhaps the British workplace will be a much healthier, happier and financially sustainable environment for people to be.
In the UK, paid work is ranked near the bottom of activities that make the population happy, which is a sad place to be for employees and their employers who need them to be happy – and therefore at their most effective. Businesses will be forced to innovate more ways to promote healthy working environments as the importance of this amongst the British workforce grows if we are to keep up with other countries which boast a more sustainable work-life balance.
One thing is hard to argue with, though: when people feel like they are supported in the workplace, they make for better employees and, collectively, a much stronger workforce.