by Ben Willmott, Head of Public Policy
New research from the CIPD finds that on average, zero-hours contract employees1 experience greater life satisfaction, are more satisfied with their jobs and enjoy better work-life balance than those on more traditional employment contracts. The research, Zero-hours and short-hours contracts in the UK, also finds that zero hours employees report at least comparable satisfaction in their relationship with their managers and colleagues. However, it also shows that, while the majority of zero-hours workers choose to work part-time hours they are more likely to want to work additional hours than other part-time workers. The research is based on a survey of 1,000 employers and 2,500 employees (including 368 zero-hours contract employees and 168 short-hours contract staff).
The report is a follow-up to the CIPD’s 2013 report Zero hours contracts: myth and reality and also includes analysis of the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). It suggests that zero-hours and short-hours contracts look set to become a permanent feature of the UK labour market, even if their use changes over time in response to economic conditions and changes in business models, production processes, service availability and customer preferences.
Flexibility is a win-win
The report shows that the main reason employers use zero-hours contracts is that they value the flexibility they provide in responding to peaks and troughs in demand, with 66% of organisations that use zero hours contracts citing this. The next most significant reason given by employers for using zero-hours contracts is to provide flexibility for individuals (51%).
For the majority of zero-hours contract workers, this flexibility seems to be at the heart of the reason they are generally satisfied with their jobs. Almost two-thirds of zero-hours contract staff say they are either satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs compared to an average of 63% for all employees. Zero-hours contract employees also report higher life satisfaction with a mean score of 26.2 compared to 25.6 for all staff.
Underpinning these high satisfaction scores are better work-life balance and less work pressure. Zero-hours contract workers are more likely to say they have the right work-life balance (62% compared to 58% of other employees). In addition, 74% of zero hours workers report their workload is about right compared to 62% of all employees and they are less likely to feel under excessive pressure at work every day or at least once or twice a week (34% compared to 41% of other employees).
Scope for improvement
However, the research also highlights areas where zero-hours contract (ZHC) workers are not as content. One is satisfaction with the number of hours they receive. In all, 88% of zero hours workers choose to work part time compared to 89% of all part-time workers; however, of these, 63% of zero-hours staff would like more hours compared to 18% of voluntary part-time workers.
In addition, there is room for improvement in the employer operation of zero-hours contracts in terms of career progression and staff involvement. Less than half (43%) of ZHC workers feel fully or fairly well-informed about what is going on at work, compared with 56% of all employees. Also, many ZHC workers see fewer ways to progress and improve their skills, despite 82% of employers saying they are eligible for training and development, showing disconnect in the workplace.
The evidence in the report shows there are positive aspects of working on a zero-hours contract as long as this type of working arrangement suits the individual. It also highlights that it is not the contract type that decides things like job satisfaction but how people are managed, for example the workload they manage, their relationship with their line manager and how flexibly they can work. The problem with demonising zero hours contracts is that it distracts from the bigger systemic issues which create low-skilled and low-quality work much more widely. In all, about 22% of jobs in the UK require no more than compulsory-level education and a similar proportion of people are in low-paid work (paid less than two thirds of the media hourly rate).
What’s the solution?
Policy-makers should be focused on working with employers to boost investment in leadership and management capability, and investment in training and development and more progressive working practices across the workforce. CIPD does not believe there is a strong case for further legislating on the use of zero-hours contracts beyond the ban on exclusivity clauses already enacted.
If policy-makers do want to intervene further to improve the rights of zero-hours workers, the CIPD has advocated that zero-hours workers could benefit from a right to request regular hours after they have been in employment for an organisation for 12 months. This would allow zero-hours contract workers who have built up a record of service with an employer to work a consistent pattern of hours, a light touch mechanism to allow them to request a minimum number of hours per week. However, employers would be able to refuse such requests where they have an adequate business reason, as for the right to request flexible working regulations.
The CIPD also believes that all workers should be legally entitled to a written copy of their terms and conditions after two months’ employment (currently under the Employment Rights Act 1996 only employees are entitled to this right).
1This article refers to zero-hours contract workers inter-changeably as employees, workers and staff and is not referring to their employment status.