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You can run, but can’t hide

Britain’s worst bosses are about to be named and shamed. Since the Brexit vote, the government has taken its eye off pretty much everything else, but now has come up with a master plan to conduct a survey on the quality of jobs in the UK, by tracking how workers feel about their managers as well as their mental health and sense of job security.

It is considering measuring the quality as well as quantity of work, amid growing concern that the social and economic benefits of record high levels of employment (as always, through manipulation of figures) are being undermined by poor quality, insecure jobs.

Workers’ sense of purpose and over-work would be assessed in the proposed mass national survey, which has been devised by a working group including employers and unions, which have been in discussions with ministers for months. The government has welcomed the idea, having committed last year to start measuring job quality.

The measures could be launched as soon as next year and are likely to fuel the row between Labour and the Conservatives over the health of the economy. Labour has responded to record employment figures by claiming they have been achieved by growth in poor-quality jobs with limited prospects and few protections.

While the employment rate is 75.6%, the highest since comparable records began in 1971, the figure does not account for issues such as pay rates, whether workers feel they are trapped in a job below their skill level, are working too few or too many hours or are under excessive pressure.

Questions in the survey will include how well employees feel supported by their immediate boss and how well they get on with colleagues, and whether they have experienced anxiety or depression caused by work in the past year. It is likely to become part of the quarterly labour force survey, which asks 88,000 people about their working lives, and comes amid broader attempts to measure the population’s wellbeing alongside other more conventional economic measures such as GDP.

“A focus on record employment levels and the quantity of work only tells us so much,” said Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce and the co-chair of the working group, which devised the new measures. “We do not know whether workers feel happy, well-treated, have opportunities for progression, work the number of hours they want to, or feel they have control over their working lives. To manage this problem, we must measure this problem.”

Managers should, perhaps, be braced for bad news. A 2011 survey found almost a third of employees considered bosses poor or very poor at allowing workers or their representatives to affect decisions. Only 57% of employees think their managers are sincere in trying to understand their views. And while 96% of managers considered their relationship with workers very good or good, only 64% of employees felt the same. 70% of workers putting in more than 48 hours a week also said they felt tense, some, most or all of the time, it found.

The UK ranks in the middle of the OECD’s assessment of job quality, which concluded, in 2015, that the best jobs among its 36 member countries were in Australia, Austria and Denmark. The secretary-general of the organisation, Angel Gurría, has said job quality has a direct influence on the overall productivity of a firm, and the leaders of the G20 nations agreed. in 2015, to start focussing on improving the quality of jobs and not just the quantity. Changes in technology, enabling gig-economy work and the increased role of computer systems in warehouse work, are widely regarded as posing a threat to the quality of jobs.

Research funded by the UK government has shown that stock-market-listed companies, which recorded the highest levels of employee wellbeing, outperformed the market and that they enjoyed lower absence through sickness and presenteeism.

The business minister, Kelly Tolhurst, said: “We are giving millions of workers new rights and workplace protections and this report will be very helpful as we bring forward further workplace reforms.”

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