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Growing Job Insecurity in the Public Sector, but not in the Private Sector

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Growing Job Insecurity in the Public Sector, but not in the Private Sector

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Published by University of Leicester Press Office for University of Leicester in Education and also in Care and Support, Central Government, Local Government

A survey of how employment is changing shows that employment relations continue to be relatively good, despite the recession. However there has been a marked rise in feelings of job insecurity in the public sector in Britain since the mid-2000s.

The report has been co-authored by University of Leicester Professor Stephen Wood of the University’s School of Management.

In 2004, employees in the private and public sectors gave similar ratings of their job security. However by 2011, public sector employees were much more likely to feel insecure in their jobs. The Workplace Employment Relations Study (WERS) shows that there have been other changes in employees' job quality, but these have also tended to favour employees in the private sector.

Whilst the private sector recovery gains pace, the Office for Budget Responsibility is forecasting that public sector employment will fall by a further fifth by 2018.[1]  The lot of public sector workers is therefore unlikely to improve in the near future.

Employment relations broadly stable

The proportion of all employees who viewed relations with their workplace managers as either ‘good’ or ‘very good’ was slightly higher in 2011 (64%) than in 2004 (62%), despite the challenging economic climate. However, the proportion of employees giving positive ratings was higher in the private sector than in the public sector in 2004 (64% versus 57%) and the gap widened in 2011 (67% versus 57%).

But growing job insecurity in the public sector

Back in 2004 there was no difference in perceived job security between public and private sector employees: roughly two-thirds agreed or strongly agreed their jobs were secure (left-hand panel in Table 1). In 2011 perceptions of job security in the private sector were at their previous level, despite the longest recession in living memory; but in the public sector perceived job security had plummeted so that fewer than half of public sector employees felt secure in their jobs. These trends fed through to employees' satisfaction with their job security (right-hand panel in Table 1).

[1] Chart C (p.77) of the Office for Budget Responsibility’s Economic and Fiscal Outlook – March 2013.

Table 1 - Job Security: Perceptions and Satisfaction

 

Employees agreeing that ‘My job is secure in this workplace’

Employees ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with job security

 

2004

2011

2004

2011

Private sector

68

65

65

63

Public sector

66

47

64

46

Jobs more demanding

The percentage of employees saying that their job requires them to work very hard rose in both the public and private sectors between 2004 and 2011. However, public sector employees remained more likely to say that they never had enough time to get their work done (Table 2).

Nevertheless the long-hours culture is more prevalent in the private sector, where more than two-fifths of employees believe that they have to work long hours to progress.

Table 2 - Job Demands

 

Employees agreeing that...

       

‘My job requires that I work very hard’       

 

‘I never seem to have enough time to get my work done’

 

'People in this workplace who want to progress usually have to put in long hours’

2004

2011

2004

2011

        2011

Private sector

74

83

36

38

         42

Public sector

80

85

51

48

         37

 

             

 Wages being restrained

Whilst official statistics show that average wages have risen to a similar degree in the private and public sectors since the mid-2000s, WERS shows that public sector workers were more likely than those in the private sector to have recently experienced pay freezes or pay cuts. Almost half (49%) of public sector employees said that their pay had recently been frozen or cut, compared with only 26% in the private sector. 

Public sector workers remain more likely to receive employer pension contributions, to have access to extra-statutory sick pay and to enjoy longer annual leave entitlements. However the public sector advantage on such benefits is likely to be reduced, following Lord Hutton’s review of public sector pensions and reforms which will expand private sector pension provision.

Management support for employees

Public sector workplaces remain more likely than those in the private sector to offer off-the-job training, but the proportion of public sector employees who judged that managers encouraged people to develop their skills fell below that seen in the private sector between 2004 and 2011 (see Table 3).

Table 3 - Supportive Management

Employees agreeing that managers at their workplace...

Private sector

   Public  sector

 

2004

2011

2004

  2011

Encourage people to develop their skills

58

60

61

 55

Understand about employees having to meet responsibilities outside work

59

63

61

 58

Are sincere in attempting to understand employees' views

56

59

52

 51

Deal with employees honestly

58

60

52

 51

Can be relied upon to keep their promises

51

53

44

 42

Treat employees fairly

58

60

54

 53

Public sector workplaces also remain more likely to offer flexible working arrangements. Yet there was a decrease between 2004 and 2011 in the proportion of public sector employees who judged managers to be ‘understanding about employees having to meet responsibilities outside work’; in contrast this proportion rose among private sector employees (Table 3).

Table 3 also shows that employees in the private sector in 2011 were more likely than those in the public sector to say that managers are:

•       sincere in attempting to understand employees’ views

•       deal with employees honestly

•       can be relied upon to keep their promises

•       treat employees fairly.

Comments on the report

Alex Bryson, Principal Research Fellow at NIESR and one of the co-authors of the report, said:

"In our survey the biggest difference in working conditions in recent years relates to job security: perceptions of job security have declined markedly in the public sector since the mid-2000s. Demands made of employees to work harder have increased in both sectors, but private sector employees have generally benefited from more supportive management. These differences partly reflect different employer responses to recession in the two sectors. But the continuing squeeze on public finances means it is likely that there will continue to be pressure on working conditions in the public sector for some time to come."

Professor Stephen Wood, Professor of Management, University of Leicester, said:

“The divide between private and public sector workplaces remains as the public sector is still strongly unionised and the attitudes of public sector employees are dominated by perceptions of job insecurity and dissatisfaction about scope for involvement. Private sector employees are more positive about their jobs and their working environment.

“WERS shows how most workplaces were adversely affected by the recession in one way or another but reactions to the recession have not altered the course of the evolution of employment relations. Nonetheless the specific actions managers took in response to the recession have been extensive with many employees having to forego wage increases or increase their workload to help their workplace survive.  They have had some positive effect on how workplaces fared in recession, and moreover aspects of existing employment relations also played a part in ensuring that many workplaces survived the recession.”

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