That was a rather depressing headline in the Financial Times over the weekend. According to the 2012 Skills and Employment Survey “Britain’s employees are feeling more insecure and under pressure at work than any time in the past 20 years”. Public sector workers are also more worried than those in the private sector about losing their jobs and status.
The reason for this is is a combination of recession and low growth, as well as “work intensification” i.e. working harder and with less autonomy over how to do the work. However, for some the restrictions on individual employment rights was an issue,
Almost a third of staff were anxious about unfair treatment at work, including being dismissed without good reason, discriminated against or victimised by management.
This fear of unfair treatment is a particular issue in the public sector, although no particular explanation seems to have been provided as to why that should be. Common sense suggests that employees who are worried about their security at work are unlikely to spend money and thus consumer spending is unlikely to increase, thus prolonging our situation of recession and minimal growth. Restricting employment rights so that employees feel they have no legal redress in the event that they are treated badly or dismissed unfairly is not going to assist the economic recovery. It may be unreasonable to blame this purely on the issue of employment law reform as clearly there are other major economic factors at work, but in its desire to create a flexible labour market the government ought to consider whether it is not inadvertently scuppering its own plans to boost the economy.
Talk of employee happiness may seem rather frivolous. However there is a serious side to this. As the short video in the article discusses, a happy employee is one who is likely to be more productive and to stay with the business. Unhappy employees will move on if they can and if they can’t will be a drag on the business. Stress at work levels are said to be increasing and although that may be due to work intensification caused by technological change, a workforce that has little autonomy in how it performs the tasks assigned to it and is not consulted or allowed to participate in decision-making processes, is not likely to be a healthy place. In my experience of acting for employees with occupational illness claims, overwork is often not the crucial factor: what can create an illness situation is where diligent and loyal employees feel they are being badly treated because they feel undervalued and ignored.
In short, a happy workforce might make for a more productive economy. Maybe it is in that area that the government should be turning its attention rather than cutting back on employment rights?