Is modern work miserable and exploitative? Turns out workers don’t think so.

Britons don't want a future without work, says Fabian Society report


The idea that work is fundamentally miserable and exploitative has gained traction in recent years, sparking proposals for a post-work world built on automation and a universal basic income.

But according to new research from the Fabian Society and the Changing Work Centre, a large majority (78 per cent) of people in Britain actually enjoy their work, and the proportion is increasing over time.

Today’s report shows that 63 per cent of workers look forward to work all or most of the time, up from 49 per cent in a similar survey conducted in 2001.


‘This report shows that for most of us, work is a good thing,’ commented Cameron Tait, head of the Changing Work Centre.

“It gives us enjoyment and we tend to find it interesting. This should give succour to political leaders to continue to talk up the value of work and the importance of full employment. It should also put paid to the minority political view that work – in general – is miserable and exploitative.”

However, Tait also cautioned that about one in ten workers — about three million people — are not finding their work fulfilling. The report highlights that those in working class occupations are more likely to fall into this category than white collar workers.

While 86 per cent of white collar workers find their work interesting, just 68 per cent of those in working class occupations feel the same.

The report identifies three primary causes for work dissatisfaction: lack of flexibility, lack of agency and initiative, and lack of security. In other words, those who are in precarious employment and have little control over their working lives are most likely to be unhappy at work.


Worryingly, then, job insecurity is increasing. In 2001, 77 per cent reported that their jobs were secure, which has fallen to 70 per cent today. Additionally, 42 per cent of workers have little or no influence over their working hours, and greater numbers are experiencing discrimination and bullying.

Commenting on the findings, Yvette Cooper MP, chair of the Changing Work Centre, said:

“Progressive employment policies need to address inequality and insecurity in the workplace and recognise the positive value of work for most people. It isn’t an either-or. Plenty of people who enjoy their jobs are worried that they are insecure, or that they aren’t paid enough to cover the rent or get a mortgage. We need both full and fulfilling employment that gives families the financial security they need.”

Therefore, the findings present a challenge to politicians across the spectrum. While those who advocate a future without work must engage with the reality that most people find work fulfilling, members of the government cannot simply trumpet their progress towards full employment, they must also act on behalf of the millions who are unhappy and need better working conditions.

A future without work? Maybe not. A future with better work? Definitely.

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.

See also: Disability-related sickness absence is union reps’ top equality concern

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