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Jessica Brannigan

Culture Amp

Lead People Scientist

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World Values Survey: Living to work or working to live?

Recent research shows British employees are most likely to say ‘we don’t live to work’.

The World Values Survey, carried out by King’s College London’s Policy Institute, is a large, widely used international academic social survey. They recently shared their latest findings, which make for interesting reading for those in the people and organisational behaviour domain.

The research reports growing regional and generational differences in perspectives around the importance of work. Specifically, the UK is least likely, from all 24 nations included in the study, to say work is important in their life.

Millennials have over time shifted away from the perspective that work ‘should always come first’; dropping from 41% in 2009 to 14% by 2022. Indeed, 52% of Millennials said it would be a ‘good thing if less importance were placed on work’.

A generational shift in views on work-life balance

What do these findings suggest? The researchers note that there is a general long-term shift in preferences for work-life balance across wealthier nations.

Indeed it’s likely this shift, already noticeable pre-2020, has been exacerbated by the stock-taking many employees inadvertently took as a result of the pandemic.

It made many ask: ‘if you don’t have your health, what do you have?’ Folks began to assess, through means of a government-induced pause, the trade-offs they had been making in their lives and careers, and that is something we have continued to play out in employee feedback across sectors.

The wellbeing versus pay debate

We often incorrectly see these issues as binary or mutually exclusive. Much of the discussion in this domain contrasts the relative importance of wellbeing versus pay, for example.

But when we step back and look at the rising amount of research out there on new and modern ways of working (like the 4 day week), it is clear that employee wellbeing, productivity and pay can all contribute to each other in a virtuous cycle.

Organisations that offer employees both good pay and good work-life balance create an environment where people can bring their best selves to work and build a business.

Is it really necessary, or even desirable, to have employees place work at the centre of their lives, rather than view it as an important portion of a greater whole?

A modern reframe on work

An optimistic way of interpreting this data is that, at this juncture in time in the UK and other wealthy nations, we can afford to have this modern reframe on work and its centrality in our lives. In the post-industrial era that is something we should embrace and rejoice in, as humans and employers!

There is considerable focus on productivity as economies falter, but the topic I’d encourage organisations to think more about is how to have healthy employees, who have the right balance to come to work and be motivated by the employee experience and the challenge of their role.

At a global level, the top predictor of motivation is employee development, so for international organisations, there must be developmental opportunities, resources and support available if you want your employees to feel motivated.

The gender divide in work-life views

On a separate but important note, it is likely that experiences of balance and wellbeing alongside the ability to focus exclusively on work vary by gender.

From employee responses collected in 2022 within Culture Amp’s data lake, we identified that perceptions regarding the fairness of workload division were more favourable for men than women (by 6%).

In addition, perceptions as to, first, whether their workload is reasonable for their role and, second, whether employees in their organisation exhibit a healthy blend between work and personal life were both more favourable for men than women by 4%.

The demands and expectations at home and in the workplace are often unfairly applied, and thus I’d like to see employers embracing a healthier, in-perspective approach to work for all genders.

Interested in this topic? Read article: Transforming pay and benefits through systemic rewards.


Author Profile Picture
Jessica Brannigan

Lead People Scientist

Read more from Jessica Brannigan
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