As we face a future of greater automation, an ageing workforce, continual change and dynamism across sectors, creating good work and quality jobs is a priority. This may be affected by a range of factors, including HR practices, the quality of people management as well as the workers themselves. The CIPD’s annual UK Working Lives Survey sets out to examine these factors, using seven critical dimensions of job quality. The resulting work equips policy makers, business leaders and managers as well as individuals, with evidence and recommendations by which they can raise job quality and improve working lives. 

This concise briefing is a supplement to the main report and is designed to provide people practitioners with an overview of the key findings, as contextualised for Northern Ireland. By drawing out the most notable data for each aspect of job quality, together with charts and ‘practice pointers’, this briefing directs focus towards the most essential issues for action. Due to sampling difficulties related to a smaller working population, the data for Northern Ireland is more limited than for other UK nations and regions. While all of the data discussed comes within our accepted range, small sample sizes may not reflect the full picture and as such, the data is best used as an indication only

We encourage organisations to use these insights alongside the more detailed analysis of the main report to drive engagement and improvement in these critical aspects of practice, which in turn will support the growth of quality jobs for all. 

1. Work-life balance and flexible working

  • Northern Ireland ranks lowest among UK nations and regions for ease of taking time off to deal with family matters. 

  • NI is third behind London and the Midlands on the use of flexitime with 35% saying they use it. 

  • Workers in NI is least likely to benefit from working from home (77% don’t have this option available compared with 60% UK average)

Practice pointers

  • Review the business case and objectives for flexible working at your organisation. Is what you currently have in place fit for purpose? 

  • Identify facilitators and barriers to flexible working and actionable solutions. 

  • Review the flexible working options you offer and compare them with the options actually used. 

  • Redesign jobs to allow for flexible working as part of your core strategy. 

  • Ensure policies, communications, and guidelines around flexible working are clear, consistent, and provide channels for feedback and ideas.   

2. Pay and benefits

  • Northern Ireland respondents are the least satisfied with pay – only 41% agree they are ‘appropriately’ paid compared with the UK average of 45%. 

  • NI is second only to London on access to pension benefits with 76% having access compared with the UK average of 73%. 

  • National data (ONS) show that NI has the lowest gender pay gap of all UK nations and regions. Excluding overtime, NI even has a negative gender pay gap in favour of women of +3.5% against the the UK average of -8.6%.  

Practice pointers

  • Update your pay and benefits strategy/approach relative to the marketplace, based on your current and expected demand for talent. Ensure they are fair and equitable across your workforce.

  • Review your pay and benefit structure against organisational objectives and realign where required.

  • Check your pay practices against the National Living Wage and take action as required.

  • Update your workforce planning to take account of variations in pay and benefit levels in different locations.

  • Particularly if raising pay is not an option, consider boosting your benefits package through partnerships with suppliers etc.

  • Pay attention to pensions. Make sure your employees are aware of the need to save for the future and the proportions they need to save. 

3. Contracts

  • Northern Ireland has the highest level of part-time working with 30% employed on that basis compared with 25% for the UK on average. 

  • NI reports the longest serving employees with 51% in their jobs for 10 years or more – well in excess of the UK average of 36%. 

  • NI has the lowest number reporting as being self-employed (9% compared with 15% UK average).  

Practice pointers

  • Ensure written employment contracts capture all key terms and conditions of employment, including employment status and associated rights, and are kept up to date.

  • Align employment contracts with your organisational objectives, values, and workforce planning.

  • Have clear policies and guidelines for managers on when to use different types of contracts.

  • If zero-hours contracts are used, ensure responsible use and be aware of the legal issues.

  • If additional capacity is needed, bring in the underemployed on more hours first. It will save on recruitment while providing enhanced employment and earnings opportunities.

4. Skills, autonomy and development

  • Northern Ireland workers are least likely to say that their job offers good opportunities to develop their skills (31% vs 25% UK average) or would help develop their careers (46% v UK average of 41%). 

  • NI employees are the most energised among all UK nations and regions with 38% feeling they are always or often in that state. 

  • Workers are least likely to feel under excessive pressure (11% responded always/often compared with 22% UK average). They also feel they don’t have enough time to get their work done (59% compared with 61% UK average). 

Practice pointers

  • Audit your workforce skills and capabilities; where possible, capture information on learning activities, their application, and impact on job to drive learning analytics. If you are a small firm this may be a spreadsheet with people’s skills and qualifications. In any setting, note any special abilities, interests, volunteering commitments etc as these may unlock additional opportunities and capabilities.

  • Talk to people directly and via their managers about their knowledge, skills, aspirations and development opportunities in their jobs. Commitment to growing talent internally can be an attractive employee value proposition.

  • Consider making more/better use of apprenticeships.

  • Ensure your learning and development strategy enables achievement of organisational objectives and makes the best use of emergent learning technologies and approaches.

  • Make it clear and easy for employees to access and sign up for learning and development supported/delivered by the organisation; identify and take advantage of relevant, applicable, free learning provided by third parties.

  • Innovation is critical. Skills, autonomy and development can drive innovation. Don’t be boxed in by titles and roles as you seek to innovate on products or processes. Tap into the insight and expertise of the whole workforce.

5. Relationships at work

  • Northern Ireland workers are least likely to report a good relationship with their line manager/supervisor (71% report this is good overall compared with a UK average of 76%). 

  • They are more likely than average (6% vs 3%) to report that relationships with colleagues are poor. 

  • Workers are the least likely among all UK nations and regions to have experienced bullying, conflict or harassment at work (27% v UK average of 30%). 

Practice pointers

  • Clearly articulate your organisation’s purpose and objectives, and ensure its values are current, relevant and memorable.

  • Encourage a learning culture and lead it from the top. Give room for people to experiment and try new methods. Celebrate successes, but also provide safety for sharing failures and growing from lessons learnt.

  • Develop, support and enable managers to be people-oriented in their role as team leaders.

  • Make sure your organisational development and change strategies recognise the value of relationships and networks, where real value can be cultivated.

6. Voice

  • Northern Ireland is above the UK average for employees saying that their managers are good at seeking their views and those of their representatives. 

  • NI workers are more likely than average (42% vs 37%) to say that their managers are good at listening to their ideas and suggestions. 

  • They are also more likely than average (42% vs 39%) to say that their managers are good at keeping them informed. 

Practice pointers

  • Value employee voice. Emerging research shows that enabling people to speak up creates a better and more productive workplace.

  • Be mindful of managers’ role in enabling or inhibiting voice. One way is to remind leaders at big meetings to speak less and listen more. Run an open session on what’s good or bad around the workplace.

  • Consider supporting an organised form of employee voice and consult on whether this should be a union or an internal forum.

  • Look at your internal communications strategy and make sure it involves receiving as well as transmitting.

7. Health and well-being

  • Northern Ireland workers are more likely than average (42% vs 39%) to view work’s impact on their mental health as positive.  

  • They are most likely to view work’s impact on their physical health as positive (35% vs 29% UK average). 

  • Workers in NI are least likely to have experienced a work-related health condition in the last year (53% vs 44% UK average). 

Practice pointers

  • Create a health and well-being strategy for your organisation and a communication plan to raise awareness; this is a key driver of candidate attraction and employee retention.

  • Launch regular campaigns focused on targeted areas of employee health and well-being, supported by employee health and well-being champions.

  • Provide guidance and support to leaders and managers on how to most effectively manage and support, the health and well-being of their teams.

  • Create opportunities for employee involvement in and feedback on health and well-being initiatives.

  • Gather and analyse data on the health and well-being of employees; identify risks and opportunities for action.

  • Ensure adequate support, enablement, and care for employees working with physical and/or mental health issues.


This short, practice-focused briefing outlines the major findings from CIPD’s UK Working Lives, highlighting the comparisons between Northern Ireland and other UK nations and regions. Employers and people professionals can use the practice pointers to explore the dimensions of job quality within their teams and consider the recommended actions. Why not establish a ‘Job Quality’ group in your organisation and use the main report and these insights for Northern Ireland to benchmark your progress?