The phenomenal growth of self-employment in the UK, which now accounts for a record 4.97million people, has raised a number of important questions in recent years. As the Government devises policies to account for the evolving needs of this workforce, what do independent workers want and need? Is it reasonable pay? Greater job flexibility? Protection in the form of employment rights? Or something else?
Well, for employees, as it turns out it’s a number of these factors, according to CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development. In a recent report titled ‘UK Working Lives’, the association explored the key issues that contribute to better wellbeing and worklife balance among workers, with CIPD’s main focus on the needs of employed individuals.
While what matters to freelancers and contractors isn’t always as important to a permanent employee, CIPD did identify a number of various takeaways that will no doubt resonate strongly with independent professionals.
In this article, we’ll explore the contributing factors to ‘good work’, not just for employees, but for the rapidly expanding self-employed workforce too.
First up is worklife balance, which is arguably the holy grail for the self-employed and employed. The CIPD study surveyed a group of workers on this core dimension of job quality, asking for feedback on their hours, commute, job flexibility and overall worklife balance.
It became apparent that job flexibility is key to achieving a healthy worklife balance. However, this is something that people clearly struggle to achieve, with 68% of employees stating that they would like to work flexibly in a way that is not currently available to them. Additionally, the UK ranks 24th out of 25 similar countries when it comes to how often out job demands interfere with family life.
While freelancers and contractors certainly have greater control over the way they perform their jobs compared to employees, that’s not to say striking a sensible worklife balance is any easier - and it is certainly something for independent workers to bear in mind and perhaps even prioritise.
Pay (and benefits).
Being paid what you believe you are worth stood out as a crucial factor in ensuring ‘good work’ among the employees surveyed. That said, the insight shows that less than one in two workers consider themselves paid appropriately when taking into account their responsibilities and achievements.
Measuring this against other countries, the UK is apparently slightly below average in ‘earnings quality’, sitting 15th out of the 25 countries, alongside America and New Zealand.
Would the feedback from self-employed workers would paint a different picture? Maybe. With the ability to set their own day-rates and fees within reason, in theory, independent professionals have unlimited earning potential.
When focusing on benefits, a sticking point among many self-employed workers, particularly those working in the gig economy, is that they do not receive employment rights. This is also an issue that has been discussed in detail recently amid IR35 reform, which has led to a rise in contractors operating inside the legislation, meaning they are taxed as employees but do not receive any employment privileges in return.
The report states that more than 75% of workers in the UK are permanent employees and therefore hold a permanent employment contract. 19% of the workforce is self-employed, while the remaining individuals are said to hold what CIPD describes as ‘non-standard’ contracts, including temporary, gig economy and zero-hours contracts.
As expected, most (86%) of employees have high levels of security and are satisfied with the amount of work they receive. But to reinforce the theory that independent workers are also comfortable with their current situation - despite not having the supposed security of permanent employment - the vast majority of individuals surveyed who run their own business (83%), along with freelancers and contractors (76%) do not feel ‘underemployed’ either.
Granted, it is a slightly different situation for zero-hours contract workers, such as Uber drivers and Deliveroo riders, with nearly one in two (48%) raising concerns about their ‘employment’ level.
Looking outside of the UK, our workforce fares better than most with regards to job security, standing 8th alongside America and Slovenia.
Nature of the work.
People naturally want autonomy over their job. It makes work meaningful and fulfilling. Refreshingly, the report suggests most workers have a degree of control over the work they perform on a daily basis, with three-quarters of the employees surveyed also confident they make an important contribution to the organisations they work for.
For self-employed workers, limited company contractors, in particular, having control over how the service they provide is performed is crucially important with regards to IR35 status. To demonstrate that a contractor belongs outside IR35, being able to prove that the worker has a realistic amount of autonomy is vital.
Holding strong relationships in the workplace is also a contributing factor to ‘good work.’ The vast majority of employees told CIPD they have good relationships with their managers and colleagues, but also said that blame cultures (19%) and environments that aren’t inclusive (22%) are fairly common.
Granted, the very nature of freelancing and contracting suggests holding down long-term relationships at work isn’t as simple. That said, the popularity of independent working means the support network for self-employed individuals has never been stronger.
Voice and representation.
While employees understandably want their voice heard in the workplace, as many as one in four workers feel they are poorly represented.
When focusing on the self-employed, given the Government seems intent on introducing policies with the potential to damage the independent workforce, the need for businesses and associations to champion these workers is arguably more important than ever.
If you’re asking yourself why ‘good work’ matters, CIPD makes a strong argument, stating that “work takes up a huge part of our lives. It can and should be a force for good for all, benefitting individuals, organisations, economies and society as a whole.”
Despite the clear differences between employees and self-employed workers, CIPD’s take on ‘good work’ should be something that everyone can agree on. Certainly, this study will prove useful for the Government as it gears up to ensure workers - employed and self-employed - can access fair and decent work as a result of the introduction of the Good Work Plan next year.
CIPD’s full report can be found here.
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