What do we want? Less work, lower pay!

​If it’s true that no-one ever regrets spending too little time in the office, that message appears to be spreading, at least in the UK.

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Jul 31, 2017
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In this article Chris Giles, the FT’s economics editor, notes official data showing that 3.3m workers would now prefer to work less for lower pay, compared with only 2.7m who would prefer to work longer for more—the largest such gap since the financial crisis in 2008.

The aggregate effect of this ‘overemployment’ may be less dramatic than it seems, as those seeking to reduce their hours only want to do so a little, while those wishing to work more, want to by a significant amount. Nonetheless, the figures reveal a significant proportion of the working population wanting to do less work—and that should sound a warning for human resources managers. Surprisingly, the tighter labour supply hasn’t increased workers’ bargaining power. This may be because of a residual fear of unemployment, as reflected in an uptick in the ‘index of unemployment fears’ in the wake of the Brexit referendum.

HR leaders might also consider what lies behind this trend and how it might apply to their own staff: It could be a sign of general disengagement, a rebalancing of work-life priorities, the need for more flexible employment, a question of tax disincentives, or simply the best way to preserve one’s job. Could it even be a sign of a more prosperous workforce—at least for those whose bills are readily met? More generally, companies might factor in the potential impact on future labour supply, particularly given the effect of Brexit on the supply of EU labour.

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Paul Lewis

Editorial director, Headspring

Paul Lewis is a writer and editor, specialising in business, management, economics and politics.