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Better opportunities but greater pressures for Britain's employees finds new research

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The results of a major research study by academics at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), University of Oxford and Policy Studies Institute has been launched today (Thursday 13 December). The research examines the prospects and job conditions of British employees, covering the period 1984-2004, and its findings challenge much of the received wisdom about the changing world of work.

Market, Class, and Employment by Dr Patrick McGovern|, LSE, Professor Stephen Hill, Royal Holloway, Colin Mills, University of Oxford and Michael White, Policy Studies Institute, details the findings of the study, which was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of its Future of Work research programme.

The research included a specially commissioned national survey of British employees, carried out in 2000, and a survey of British employers carried out in 2002, as well as a review of information from a variety of other national surveys over the period 1984-2004.

The research examines: The resurgence of careers and long-term employment; emerging alternatives to union representation; factors that increase work strain, including ICT surveillance, insecurity or fear of job loss relating to redundancies, pay-for-performance incentive schemes and involvement in intensive 'human resource management' practices, geared to achieving higher performance; how human resource management practices are affecting family life; and class differences in employment.

The researchers found that:

  • Contrary to received wisdom, employers have restored and maintained careers and long-term employment in defiance of market pressures
  • Individual consultation and bargaining is becoming more prevalent as trade unions decline - but this development has exposed women's inability to negotiate pay rises when they start new jobs
  • ICT surveillance is a significant new source of work strain. Computer-based forms of monitoring now covers more than half the workforce and the spread of this form of labour control has led to feelings of exhaustion, anxiety and work-related worry, notably among administrative and white-collar staff
  • British employees experience multiple stresses at work and deteriorating family life, in particular because of the increasing impact of modern 'human resource management' practices
  • Class differences in rewards and conditions have not been narrowing but in fact have been growing even wider than previously
  • British Employees give equal weight to financial and non-financial considerations when judging job desirability

Michael White, Policy Studies Institute said: 'Overall, the majority of British employers have backed away from a hire-and-fire response to competitive pressures, in favour of renewing their long-term relationship with employees. At the same time, though, they have found a variety of ways of extracting more effort and higher performance from their workforce. For employees, this means more opportunity, but also more pressure, both on themselves as individuals and on their families.'

Patrick McGovern, LSE said 'The major story about work in Britain is not that it has become more precarious or fragmented; rather it has become more demanding while the returns to have become more unequal. The major winners in the so-called new economy are professional and managerial employees who have actually moved further ahead of the rest of the labour force.'

Click here for more on the report's findings|


For further information and comment, please contact Patrick McGovern on 020 7955 6653 or by email at p.mcgovern@lse.ac.uk|; Michael White on 020 8346 1630 or by e-mail at whitem@psi.org.uk|


Market, Class, and Employment is published by Oxford University Press. It is available in both hardback and paperback. http://www.oup.com/uk/catalogue/?ci=9780199213382|

  • Patrick McGovern is senior lecturer in sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Science
  • Stephen Hill is the principal of Royal Holloway, University of London and Professor of Management
  • Colin Mills is University lecturer in sociology and fellow of Nuffield College, University of Oxford
  • Michael White is Emeritus fellow at the Policy Studies Institute, University of Westminster

The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It supports independent, high quality research relevant to business, the public sector and voluntary organisations. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2007-08 is £181 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk|

Press Cuttings

Daily Telegraph (14 December)
Working mothers toil for an extra 120 hours
The demands of juggling a job and a family means mothers are working the equivalent of an extra 120 hours a year, a study has said. Patrick McGovern, a senior lecturer in sociology at the London School of Economics and lead author of the report, said: 'The pressures at work have been ramped up over the last 15 years and the effect on women is striking. They are often combining a double workload - motherhood and career. If you are in a highly pressured job and have a fixed childcare arrangement, you may have to leave work at 5pm yet you are under the same pressure as a man who can leave at 6.30pm.'

13 December 2007