With the rise of zero hour contracts and the economically driven cuts to many workforces, the concept of a job for life may seem a far fetched and unattainable one. People from an older generation often describe how they were tied to one job for the whole of their working lives and sometimes describe the disadvantages and claustrophobia associated with this.
However, the security and stability of a job for life was a great motivator for people finding work in the past. Thinking about my contemporaries who are seeking work, it is clear how the added incentive of lifetime job security would help this process along. The organisation Key Retirement Solutions have recently carried out a study into this idea of a job for life to see how it stands in 2014.
The Office for National Statistics found that the average job tenure for both men and women – how long they remain in a position of employment – increased between 2008-2011 from 8.5-9 years for men, and from 7-7.9 years for women.
However, although these figures suggest increased security in the workplace, the average job tenure in the UK is one of the lowest in Europe, with only Denmark having a lower average job tenure. Although the figure of 8-9 years as an average job tenure for women and men is a far cry from a job for life as my grandparents would have known it, the increase is encouraging. It could suggest a brighter future for the job market in the UK, brighter than the one we are often presented with in the media.
Additionally, the number of voluntary resignations has also decreased for UK employees following the financial crisis, from 3.1% of workers deciding to resign in 1998 down to just 1.4% in 2009 and 2011. It would seem that the added pressures and threats of redundancy associated with the Global Financial Crisis meant fewer people were confident enough in their future employment to make that step.
The Chartered Institute for Personal Development (CIPD) suggests more optimistic reasons for why fewer employees are leaving their jobs voluntarily. These include the extensions to maternity and paternity leave which have been made by the government in recent years, and the increases to the National Minimum Wage – which is set to rise to £6.50 per hour for adults over 21 in October of this year.
More importantly however, the question which must be asked is whether people are holding onto their jobs for longer because they are more satisfied with them, or because they feel immobile and incapable of moving elsewhere. The most recent Measuring National Well-being survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics in 2011 found that 78.5% of workers over the age of 16 are ‘somewhat, mostly or completely satisfied’ with their current job, a rise from the previous survey.
Out of these figures however, the employees’ satisfaction about their job security was shown to have dropped 5% between this survey and the previous one in 2004, and this was one of the most commonly cited factors associated with ‘quite’ or ‘very’ stressful aspects of their jobs.
According to Mark Beaston – the Chief Economist at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development – the changing face of the working landscape in the UK means that there are fewer opportunities to access these jobs for life.
“If we interpret a job for life as one where there was a good probability of avoiding [involuntary] job loss, then the shifts in the economy from public to private sector [privatisation] and from large to smaller companies have probably reduced the number of such jobs.”
He goes on to say that there are “few, if any, jobs these days that can offer a realistic prospect of 40-50 years’ continuous employment.”
However, there is a brighter side. On a personal level, the young people I know seeking jobs at the minute are not under any illusions that they are seeking a job for life and are becoming more pragmatic about their future career prospects. It is not unusual for people to change careers multiple times throughout their lives in our current economic climate, and although this may encourage increased concern about job security, it also means that young people will not end up tied to one job in the same way their grandparents were.
Beaston suggests that employers have also had to adapt to this change. Rather than being able to sell lifetime job security, they “emphasise how the skills and experience acquired in a role will enable [the employees] to develop their careers and skills – even if it is with another employer or in another line of business.” He points out how although the government cannot guarantee the creation of jobs for life, they should ensure the transitions between careers are smooth and straightforward instead by supporting job seekers and facilitating re-training.
With this in mind, although the prospect of a finding job for life is increasingly difficult with the working landscape in the UK as it is, the idea of skills for life appears to be what employers are emphasising and workers are seeking. Perhaps the decrease in job security – as employees are looking for skills to push their career forwards, not a single job to be their career – can be seen as a necessary, if uncomfortable, part of this process.
I spoke to some students to find out their views on jobs for life.
“The idea of jobs for life is a good one, if it’s a desirable job or if it paid well. For example, for an English student, they may be happy writing or working for a publishing firm for life. Otherwise, people probably wouldn’t mind working in one place for life if they had promotions every few years. The only time where a job for life would be negative is when it’s a dead end job where there are no promotions, as people get more experience as they get older and feel they have more to offer, so get bored in jobs that don’t allow them to broaden their horizons. Sometimes it’s better to jump from place to place if it furthers someone’s career.”
“In my opinion, being a woman in particular revolves a lot around having children and balancing childcare and work. While an ideal job as a career woman looks very professional (I imagine myself in a business suit and smart heels), I would always want to only be working part-time when I have children so I think a high-flying career would have to become something a little more informal. My mum does part-time primary school teaching and helping out there recently has made it seem like a good option. I think maternal drive and career drive come head to head when it comes to the ‘job for life’ idea, with me at least.”