Fair Work Framework 2016
Why is fulfilment at work important?
The term fulfilment is associated with meeting a need or aspiration and with getting meaning from an activity. People have a wide variety of needs and aspirations at work and derive meaning from different things. Part of the challenge of management is to make sure that employment and work taps into this variety of needs and aspirations. But there are important common themes in discussions of fulfilment at work: the ability to identify the job or the organisation as serving a valuable purpose; the opportunity to use existing skills; the chance to
exercise some control and to make a difference; the scope to be appropriately challenged; the chance to access training to maintain skills and learn new things; and opportunities for personal growth and for career development. Fulfilment can also arise from positive and supportive workplace relationships that promote a sense of belonging and this overlaps strongly with respect as a
dimension of fair work86.
Fulfilling work in a supportive context can create a more rewarding work experience for workers. It also contributes to a sense of purpose and self-worth and can support confidence and self-belief. Where a sense of purpose is aligned (or compatible) with organisational purpose it can create and promote a sense of belonging and shared goals that support individual and
organisational performance. Fulfilling work also supports greater engagement and commitment and helps unleash creativity and innovation, all of which drive a more productive contribution and more effective workplaces.
The impact of individual fulfilment goes beyond the workplace by benefiting the economy and society as a whole. The return on public investment in education at all levels is enhanced where workers have opportunities to use their knowledge and expertise effectively in the workplace.
Evidence on fulfilment at work
Meaning and fulfilment in work can relate to the nature of work and/or to the goals and objectives of the employing organisation. Higher levels of worker commitment are found in work that is fulfilling in itself (for example in caring for others) and in organisations where there is a clear sense of purpose with which workers align.
Work provides workers with an opportunity to use their skills. However, workers' existing skills are not always fully utilised at work: in the UK, 51% of establishments report the under-use of skills, with 17% (down from 57% in 2011) of staff reported as over-qualified and over-skilled for their current role87. At UK level, in 48% of workplaces, employers reported having some workers with both qualifications and skills that are more advanced than required for their current job role. Workers themselves, some 4.3 million in the UK - representing 16% of the total UK workforce - reported being over-skilled and over-qualified for the jobs they are currently do88.
Having some control over one's work activities generates greater fulfilment and support discretionary effort (going the extra mile). An authorising culture allows workers greater control, problem solving and decision taking responsibilities. In relation to the level of worker autonomy over task order, work methods and the pace of work, the UK ranks only just above the EU-27 average, with women slightly more likely than men to exercise control over their immediate tasks89. From 2004-2011 the use of problem solving groups in
UK workplaces fell from 17% to 14%; fewer than half of workers reported that management responded to worker suggestions and only 34% of workers reported being allowed to influence decisions90. Yet the UK Health and Safety Executive management standards91 make it clear that a lack of control can be associated with poorer health and wellbeing. Enriched job design that offers greater opportunity for workers to make a distinctive contribution impacts positively on labour productivity, financial competitiveness, performance and quality92.
Job demands are also associated with whether or not work is fulfilling. Work that is sufficiently but not excessively challenging can be stimulating and interesting.
Job demands that are excessive, or job demands without sufficient support, do not produce fulfilling work. In the UK, higher strain jobs have grown in number over the last 20 years, comprising 35% of jobs in 201293. UK workers work some of the longest hours in Europe, with full-time workers putting in an average of 42.9 hours per week94. Stress is now the top cause of absenteeism in the UK95 and 38% of UK workers report experiencing excessive pressure every day or once/twice a week96.
Unreasonable or unachievable targets exacerbate workplace stress, reduce fulfilment and detract from worker wellbeing. Performance management systems that incorporate such practices and that are punitive in orientation97 are unlikely to deliver fulfilment and wellbeing, and may not be effectively incentivising performance either - with recent research suggesting that in Britain just 22% of workers feel that their organisation's performance processes are effective or very effective in incentivising their performance98
and only 44% of workers reporting that they are set clear objectives following appraisal99. There are increasing concerns that performance management in some firms and sectors is associated with work intensification which is linked to sickness-absence, high turnover and low productivity.
Access to training and learning that can support existing skills and the development of new skills contributes to fulfilling work. Since 2011, more employers are providing off-the-job training (49% compared to 47% in 2011 of those who had provided training) and training was more widely offered across the workforce (rising to 62% of staff compared to 55% in 2011)100. Despite the rise, each person trained received fewer days of training in 2013 (an average of 6.7 days compared with 7.8 days in 2011). Employers in Scotland were the most likely to have funded or arranged any training in the previous 12 months (70%) and those in Wales were the least likely (62%). Employers in Scotland also trained a greater proportion of their workforce (65%) than employers elsewhere in the UK (this was also the case in 2011)101.
During the period 2001-2013, union members in England and Wales were a third more likely to have received training than non-unionised workers and collaboration between employers and unions on training was associated with a positive impact on overall organisational performance102. There is consistent evidence that trade union learning representatives can also contribute significantly to fulfilment through union learning funded activities, notably by supporting skills acquisition and better skills utilisation103.
Opportunities for personal growth, and/or career advancement are key to fulfilment at work, yet CIPD research reports that 28% of UK workers are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the level of training and career development they are offered104.
Overall, there is now considerable evidence that an individual's experience of their day-to-day work directly affects their engagement levels and also their personal effectiveness105, and that poor intrinsic job quality is related to physical and psychological illness106. Workers in poor quality jobs have, on average, the lowest levels of health and wellbeing, showing more health problems, lower subjective wellbeing, and finding less meaning in their work107.
What people told us
Evidence presented to the Fair Work Convention, together with reports by the Scottish Parliament108, and the Independent Advisor on Poverty and Inequality109, identified issues consistent with broader research evidence, namely that fulfilment is a key factor for individual and organisational experience and performance.
- It was widely accepted that everyone should have the opportunity to find fulfilment in their job whatever that job is.
- Personal development is an important aspect of the value which people derive from employment, as it enables personal growth and the possibility of progression.
- People related their wellbeing to having the opportunity to influence their work and being valued for their contribution.
- Workload and pace of change can be detrimental to a fulfilling employment experience and this can be a particular and varying challenge for workers at different life stages.
- An authorising culture enables people to exercise control, use their skills and contribute effectively to meeting their organisation's objectives.
- Creating a supportive environment and work experience can be more challenging in the context of changing work patterns and where workers do not have a physical workplace.
Technology can also affect the experience of work in ways that impact on fulfilment.
- Commitment to an organisation and its people is a key element of value which supports a sense of belonging.
- Lack of employer investment in workforce and organisational development can be a barrier to worker engagement. Investment in skills is necessary to achieve economic growth.
- A restrictive or punitive performance regime can impact on individual fulfilment and stifle innovation. We heard examples in some sectors of where performance management was being
used as a tool to force exit, to punish and not as a tool to improve performance and contribution.
- Currently jobs are not designed for career lengths and some older workers may experience disadvantage in adapting to new ways of working and to the increasing pace of change at work.
- The nature and type of employment is changing. The challenge of designing sustainable jobs could be advanced through a stronger relationship between education and business. This would help to prepare young people for work and workers to respond to the needs of the labour market.
- Where there had been a move from a 'silo culture' to one of teams this had led to more innovation and fulfilment.
How to deliver fulfilment at work
- Build fulfilment at work explicitly into job design. Careful job design and attention to job enrichment can simultaneously support worker fulfilment and job performance. Seek broader rather than narrower job roles where possible which allow for greater task variety. Encourage co-operation and collaboration across jobs and tasks that allow workers to communicate more and make better connections, all of which are important for problem solving activity.
- Create an authorising culture where workers can make appropriate decisions and make a difference. In an authorising culture, people have sufficient autonomy, the opportunity to influence the direction of their work, recognition for their achievements and a clear sense of making a difference through their work activities. The opportunity to be creative at
work can unleash talent and capabilities that support good performance, creativity and innovation as well as to make work and the workplace a more fulfilling experience for workers. This has clear implications for ways of managing and leading - specifically, how managers might move from a 'command and control' approach - and also how managers and leaders at all levels are supported and developed.
- Invest in training, learning and skills development for current and future jobs. The relationship between fulfilling work, committed workers and organisational productivity has strong supporting evidence and from an organisational perspective offering fulfilling work provides the basis for people to go beyond what is required of them. Hand in hand with an increase in productivity and/or profitability is a focus on helping people to reach their full potential in their working lives. Employers should ensure that learning, skills development and opportunities for career advancement are core organisational objectives.
- Investing in training, learning and skills development should also include investing in the capabilities and capacities of union learning representatives where these exist and supporting them in building co-operative relationships with employers to jointly advance fulfilment at work.
- Expectations of performance must be realistic and achievable without negative impact on wellbeing. Mutually agreed performance expectations, reviewed over time as circumstances change,
are more likely to be achievable and achieved.
- Clear and transparent criteria and opportunities for career progression, as well as opportunities for personal development, should be a feature of all work. Internal career ladders help identify career progression opportunities which can be an important element of fulfilling work. Similarly, opportunities for personal development, which may not be career related, can enhance fulfilment.
Fulfilling work in practice
Swedish Digital Production Company 'AB' started trialling a standard six-hour working day to boost happiness and company performance. Staff are asked to stay away from social media in the office and leave any personal calls or emails to the end of the day. In return, they can clock off early and concentrate on their personal lives. The result has been described as "absolutely fantastic" by workers, and commended by David Spencer, Professor of Economics and Political Economy at Leeds University, as a means of offering a different way of working which impacts positively on individuals and the organisation110.
In 2014 the Janitorial Facilities Management Team at Perth and Kinross Council took action to address the financial challenges facing their service. This
group of staff used their autonomy, initiative, skills and commitment to create added value for their schools. Working within an authorising culture, the team were able to exercise choice and shape the direction of their work to use their collective knowledge and expertise for the greater benefit of their schools, their colleagues and pupils. They were amongst the first (nationally) to receive the SVQ Level 2 in Facilities Management, and by undertaking ROSPA Play Area Inspection certification, they eliminated a new budget pressure for schools. Embracing an opportunity to use skills from previous employment, the team drew on their own individual trade expertise, and, working alongside their Property Service colleagues, extended the first line maintenance role to something which goes far beyond minor repairs. The team now provide a range of in-house solutions which contribute to the school buildings maintenance programme, carrying out work such as portable appliance testing, paintwork and redecoration, installation of fitted furniture and other small joinery/plumbing works. "We start work as the schools are finishing so it benefits them (teachers and pupils) and it benefits us too. We don't just put out bins and lock doors - there's more to us than that" (D. Moran, 2014). This approach has reduced disruption within schools as work is conducted outwith teaching time. In addition, significant savings have been achieved - £32,000 in the first year alone. The team achieved
a gold award at the council's in-house Securing the Future Awards ceremony in 2014, and reached the final of the COSLA Excellence awards in 2015.
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