Introduction

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, and 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 designed to provide people practitioners with an overview of the key findings, as contextualised for the North of England. By drawing out the most notable data for each area, together with a charts and ‘practice pointers’, this briefing will direct focus towards the most essential issues for action. 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

Some form of flexible working is generally available across the North of England. Flexi-time (the ability to choose starting and finishing times), working from home, compressed hours and reduced hours are the most popular flexible working arrangements, with job sharing and working only during term time less common.

  • The Northern Region has the highest concentration of job sharing along with Scotland, but overall availability is limited to only 15% of the workforce.

  • It ranks second-lowest among the UK nations and regions on having compressed hours as an available flexible working option, though most likely to say they would use them if available.
     
  • Workers in the North (along with those in London) are most likely to find it difficult to do their jobs properly because of personal commitments.

Flexible working availability for the Northern Region

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

  • The North of England is below average among UK nations and regions on pay but slightly better on benefits. Reported median pay levels at £23,000 are some way below the average of £24,000 for the UK.
     
  • Second behind Scotland for having a high level of access to final salary pensions (23% compared to 21% across the UK).

  • The North East has the highest reported median pay within the region which is at the UK median of £24,000. Employees in the North West report the lowest median pay at £22,500.

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

  • Proportion of workers working full-time (62%) is above the UK average (61%), with the North East the highest at 68%. Only London is higher with 72%.

  • Nearly all respondents are satisfied with their contract status, with only 3% saying they have a contract status that doesn’t suit them.

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

  • About half of workers in the North say their job offers good prospects for developing skills. Within the region, Yorkshire and Humber respondents were most likely to say their job did not offer those prospects.

  • Workers in the North East are more likely to say they lack some skills to do their current Job. The proportion (16%) is significantly higher compared to neighbouring East of England (10%) and Scotland (9%).

  • Less than 30% think they are overqualified (having the skills to do more than they currently do), inferring an above UK average skills-to-job match.

  • Employees solve complex problems on their own more commonly than generally around the UK. More specifically, workers in the North East solve unforeseen problems on their own more commonly than elsewhere in the North (72% vs 65% average in the North) and the UK as a whole.

My job offers good opportunities to develop my skills

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

  • North of England workers report higher levels of conflict at work than the UK average (32% v 30%). Shouting and heated arguments figure most prominently.

  • In the North West conflict also involves verbal abuse above the UK average level (15% v 11%). Worryingly, some of these episodes carry physical threat (5% v UK average 3%). Though this is a low figure, it highlights an issue of concern.

  • Workers in the North are less likely than average to rate their colleagues positively on integrity and trust. In the North East in particular, they are significantly less trusting compared to workers in London, Scotland or Wales. 

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

  • Voice is more likely to be collective and from union participation than elsewhere (26% participation in unions compared to 21% average in the UK). The North East in particular, reports significantly higher union presence (31%).

  • In addition, both the North East and North West use line management and employee surveys as key channels for voice more than the UK average.

  • Yorkshire and Humber employees are more likely than elsewhere in the UK to rate managers poorly at listening to their views.

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

  • More likely than average to feel energetic and enthusiastic about their jobs (33% v 31% UK average), particularly in the North West, where the proportion is 35%.

  • Second highest among UK nations and regions on experiencing back and bone problems.

  • Excessive pressure and exhaustion are felt more frequently than 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.

Conclusion

This short, practice-focused briefing outlines the major findings from CIPD’s UK Working Lives, highlighting the comparisons between the North of England 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 the North of England to benchmark your progress?

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