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Though it has been proclaimed that Britain has defied the worst predictions of Brexit naysayers, with employment in the UK at record levels not seen since records began in 1971, the hidden truth may be that the focus should be on job quality rather than quantity. While the newspaper headlines and figures touted by politicians in the ruling Conservative party focus heavily on the number of people employed and that unemployment is at all-time lows, the leaders of the opposition, trade unions and civil society groups have pointed out that a lot of this is fueled by insecure work in the gig economy and on notorious “zero-hour contracts”.

Poor Job Quality Impacts More Than Just Workers

The effects of poor job quality on the population can be very detrimental, for both physical and mental health, though also for the bottom lines of the companies involved. Government-funded research has found that larger companies, where employees reported being the happiest and having the greatest job satisfaction, had higher productivity, less absenteeism and higher engagement in work. This shows a distinct correlation between treating employees well and gaining returns through those employees being more productive. This is a sentiment echoed by the OECD, whose secretary-general Angel Gurria has stated that job quality has an effect on the overall productivity of firms.

To assess the effects of job quality on national happiness and wellbeing in the UK, the British government has proposed undertaking a survey of job quality in the country. This will probably be added to the quarterly national employment review, through which the government already solicits the opinions of nearly 90,000 British employees, to test their attitudes and opinions about employment.

The Survey Might Not Be Good News for Managers

This may not be such good news for managers however, as previous research has shown a serious disconnect between how managers think they are performing and how well they actually are.

In 2011 a similar survey to the one now being suggested found that 64% of employees felt that they had a good relationship with their immediate managers, for the managers on the other hand, 96% of them felt they had a good relationship with their reports. This shows either a willful naivety or a serious lack of understanding of the welfare of the employees under their charge. To compound the idea further, the same survey found that only 57% of employees felt that their managers sincerely try to understand their views.

A Sign Things Are Improving in the UK

The announcement is a welcome improvement and move towards a greater understanding on the role of employment in general societal well-being. It is not just about the number of jobs available or the number of people in employment in the UK, as the OECD has agreed, countries should start moving towards understanding “whether workers feel happy, well-treated, have opportunities for progression, work the number of hours they want to, or feel they have control over their working lives. To manage this problem, we must measure this problem”, according to Matthew Taylor, the co-chair of the working group, which has been involved in devising the new measures.

With increasing competition from automated systems and AI, those in vulnerable employment sectors need to be heard and social protections prepared, either in terms of employment support or retraining to prevent greater unhappiness in the future.