From the TUC

Three ways to be unhappy about your job

20 Nov 2014, by in Working Life

This is the fourth post about the recent YouGov poll on attitudes to work commissioned by the TUC. YouGov used sophisticated statistical techniques to divide the workforce into five groups based on similar patterns of responses. Two of these contained people with positive attitudes to their job as their strongest characteristic. You can read more about these here.  In this post I am going to write about the remaining three groups – the insecure (23 per cent),  overworked (20 per cent) and the underpaid (16 per cent).

It is important to understand that this does not mean that only 20 per cent of the workforce feel overworked or that only 16 per of the workforce feel underpaid. What this statistical technique tells us is  that for 20 per cent problems to do with workload are their strongest feelings about their job. They may well feel underpaid or think they have a worthwhile and fulfilling job as well, but their strongest attitudes are about overwork. 

In the detailed report  Work in Britain 2014 there is a section on each of the unhappy job groups. This post provides an overview and presents some charts that are not in the report that bring the groups together.

First, we will look at how the attitudes of the three groups compare and contrast. This first chart groups questions about job satisfaction. It uses the net measure for the questions explained in this post.

There are some subtle and intriguing differences here. Take insecure workers. They  are the most likely to find their jobs interesting, have a say in their work and feel consulted and involved. It might be thought that the typical insecure worker has a poor time at work in general, perhaps in a low paid zero-hours contract. Undoubtedly such jobs exist, but it also seems that there are many jobs that are both insecure and enjoyable. Perhaps this is evidence of the rise of the precariat – people doing relatively skilled “middle class jobs” but without the traditional security and career path that used to go with such jobs.

Overworked workers are the most likely to be on a career path, the most likely to feel they have a chance to progress and the least likely to say their job does not make full use of their abilities. These attitudes are common in the public sector and ‘professional’ jobs such as the law.

The underpaid are the most likely to say they are not on a career path and that their jobs do not give them the opportunity to progress.


This next chart also has some results that might surprise.

The overworked are the most likely to feel anxious or worried (perhaps stressed-out in plainer English) and are also those most likely to work where there is thought to be bullying or harassment.

What stands out about the insecure is how they differ from the other two unhappy groups. You would expect them to be the most worried about losing their job, but you might also expect the underpaid to feel more insecure. 

The underpaid are much less likely to be left anxious or worried by their job, perhaps suggesting that this is less stress-inducing than overwork or insecurity.


 This final chart showing attitudes probably has fewer surprises, though again we find the insecure are less likely to complain about other aspects of their job than the other two groups.


Let us now look at which kind of workers are in the unhappy groups. As with the happy groups these charts show the difference in make-up between the whole workforce and the sub-group. In other words if men made up the same proportion of a group as they did of the working population as a whole then the difference would be zero and if there are 5 per cent more men in the sub group than the workforce as a whole this shows as +5 per cent.

In fact your gender makes little difference to which unhappy group you are likely to be in. What is striking in this first chart is that big switch between 35-44 year olds and 45-54 year olds. It is not obvious what is going on here, but don’t forget that this is not an objective measure of being insecure, underpaid or overworked but rather what people are most concerned about.

The charts above are consistent with the big difference between ABC1 ‘white collar’ workers and C2DE ‘blue collar’ workers. ABC1s are much more worried about overwork.


The variation by pay  is also far from surprising. There are clear linear relationships for the four lower pay bands between membership of the underpaid and overworked groups.


If we break down the issues by sector education is the sector full of people who feel overworked – followed by legal – and perhaps more surprisingly, retail – who are also under-represented in the underpaid group. 


The final chart brings together some other workforce demographics. Non union members are more likely to feel insecure, while union members are more likely to feel overworked or underpaid, mirroring the trend in the public sector. Overworked Managers are  a mirror image of insecure and underpaid non-managers. (There is something wrong about the right hand parts of this chart – I’ll correct it when I have a chance.)


Thanks to Arun Venkatesan for the CC image.

This is the first post in a series on this poll. Here are links to the set.