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No more job stability? and other myths about work debunked

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Personal experience is, as Oscar Wilde said, a very limited and vicious circle. It seems that many recent descriptions of the modern world of work (remote working, short contracts etc) might well be true for the journalists who wrote them, but could have little relevance for the rest of us.

The permanent job is still very much the norm for employees in the UK, according to a new survey conducted under the ESRC Future of Work Programme. Most people continue to leave their homes to carry out paid work, and on average spend more time with the same employer than they did a decade ago. Temporary and fixed term contracts actually decreased during the 1990s. Where there has been change, it is in increasing dissatisfaction with the long working hours culture.

The national survey covers nearly 2,500 employed people, including self-employed, across all occupational groups, from professional and managerial to manual and is directly comparable with the results of a similar survey carried out in 1992.

As many as 92 per cent of workers held permanent employment contracts in 2000 compared with 88 per cent in 1992. Contrary to popular belief, Britain is not experiencing a growing trend in the proportion of people working in jobs for shorter periods with more employers. Portfolio working is a minority activity. Despite this, however, employees express declining loyalty to the organisations where they work.

Most employees say they are working harder and longer. Only 16 per cent of male professionals and managers said that they were completely or very satisfied with the hours they worked compared with 36 per cent in 1992. As many as 46 per cent of men and 32 per cent of women in the sample said they frequently worked more hours on top of their basic week while 83 per cent of those who work long hours said they did so in order to meet deadlines and pressures, and 75 per cent added that it was now a requirement of the job to work longer hours.

Some people, notably those in top professional and managerial jobs, report that they work long hours because it brings work satisfaction, but that is a minority view. Among skilled manual workers, for example, 28 per cent cited work satisfaction alongside 77 per cent who put long hours down to deadlines and 81 per cent who cited money as the reason.

The new survey reveals that a growing proportion of the workforce needs advanced or complex information technology skills. As many as 80 per cent of managers and administrators, for instance, said in the second survey that these skills were now essential to their work, 84 per cent of clerks and secretaries and 71 per cent of sales people.

But the divide between skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled persists. Across the occupational groups, more people have computers at home than at work and this is particularly noticeable among semi-skilled and unskilled manual, with only 15 per cent of them using the internet at work but 41 per cent of them having access to a personal computer at home.

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