In a new report which reflects on the changing world of work over the past 30 years, low-earners were found to have lost their job satisfaction premium over this period.

The job satisfaction premium that low-earners used to enjoy in the early 1990s, with around three-quarters of staff reporting this, has now deteriorated, new research from the Resolution Foundations find.

Instead, job satisfaction has fallen for both high and low earners over the last 30 years, levelling down to just under 60 per cent for both groups.

This is thought to be driven by rising levels of stress, work intensity and falling levels of control over work.

In particular, the number of employees who report working at a very high speed for most of the time has doubled between 1992 and 2017, rising from 23 per cent to 45 per cent.

As a result, almost a third of workers – especially female employees – report feeling “used up at the end of the day”, leading to concerns about burnout and mental health issues.

Low-earners in particular were shown to have less of a say over the decisions which change how their work is done as numbers fell from 44 to 27 per cent between 1992 and 2017.

Despite this, various positive outcomes have emerged over the past decades.

The proportion of employees who say their work is helpful to others has increased from two-thirds (67 per cent) in 1989 to close to four-fifths (79 per cent) by 2017, suggesting staff are now finding more fulfilment in the roles they carry out.

Additionally, a rising number of people have identified their job as offering prospects for advancement and over four-fifths (up from 77 to 86 per cent between 1992 and 2017) feel proud of where they work.

The Resolution Foundation has urged businesses to measure the impact of workplace shifts – driven by COVID-19, Brexit and rising automation – through workers’ job satisfaction and wellbeing in addition to pay and productivity.

It adds that policy makers must address issues for low earners beyond the minimum wage, such as the lack of control over the work they do, and that firms looking for productivity gains are unlikely to find them by simply driving their workers even harder.

Krishan Shah, Researcher at the Resolution Foundation, said:

The world of work has changed completely over the past 30 years – from the decline of manufacturing to the growing use of computers, as well as new HR and management practises.

However, work has also become more intense and stressful in recent decades, particularly for Britain’s low earners. This has had a ‘levelling down’ effect across Britain’s workplaces, with low earners losing the ‘job satisfaction premium’ they once enjoyed over higher paid staff.

As Britain edges towards a post-pandemic economy, we need to focus more on these wider measures of job satisfaction if we’re to boost workers’ well-being, as well as their pay. Low earners in particular need to have a greater say over the work they do.


*These findings have been outlined in the Resolution Foundation’s ‘Work Experiences: Changes in the Subjective Experience of Work’.