Nothing to be cheerful about

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Written by Martyn Sloman on 4 September 2013

Sometimes as I sit in Sharrington Village Church, I browse through the English Hymnal. It always surprises me how few of the 700 or so are used today and there is one that seems to be completely forgotten. It is number 351: "Day of wrath and doom impending".  Its apocalyptical sentiments resonates uneasily with today's optimistic worship and the following verses captures its tone: 

Guilty, now I pour my moaning; all my shame with anguish owning; spare, O God, thy suppliant groaning

The tune resonates with the text and our organist refuses to play it.

I was reminded of hymn 351 when I attended the launch of findings of Skills at Work in Britain: first findings from the Skills and Employment Survey 2012. This is a long title for a very important piece of work that says a great deal about the state of our skills nation

Skills at Work is an illuminating survey. It is conducted every five to six years by academic researchers and the 2012 publication is the sixth in the series. This edition's findings are based on representative sample interviews from over 3000 people in employment. The first survey in the series was conducted in 1986 and the fifth in 2006 so the results offer a reliable guide to trends the British workplace. Six separate documents are available as downloads: Skills at work; Fear at work; Job-related well-being; Work intensification; Job-control; Training in Britain. 

These six documents are clearly presented; they are very accessible; the contents are thoroughly depressing.

The Financial Times report of the launch carried the headline "UK worker insecurity at 20-year high"' and summarized the findings in the following terms: "After five years of recession and low growth, it paints a picture of a workforce that is more fearful and working harder then before."  This summary was entirely justified and wherever one looks at the detail of the findings one the conclusion is that humming hymn 351 offers the best accompaniment. 

The Training in Britain summary states that, not only has the volume of training has fallen since 2006, but that fewer people are satisfied with the training they receive and fewer report that their training helps them to enjoy their job more.  On job control: "the proportion of employees who report that they have a great deal or quite a lot of say over work organisation declined from 36 per cent to 27 per cent between 2001 and 2012." In the survey job-related well-being is measured using two core dimensions - 'enthusiasm for' and 'contentment with' the job.  As the summary puts it: "In both these dimensions job-related well-being in British workplaces fell between 2006 and 2012.  There was a small drop in the average population-wide score on the Enthusiasm scale and a sharp fall in the score on the Contentment scale."

Perhaps the most depressing, if least surprising, set of results concern the public sector. To quote from the Fear at Work document: "In the past both fear of job loss and fear of unfair treatment of unfair treatment at work were far more common in the private than in the public sector.  In 2012 fear of job loss was higher in the public than in the private sector, while fear of unfair treatment had become more similar to the level in the private sector.  Fear of status loss was also higher in the public sector."  It is impossible to remain detached about results like these.  The Government has set out to give the public sector a good kicking and, judging by these results, has succeeded.  Hypocritically it is advocating high-performance working and promoting a totally ineffective 'engage for success' campaign.

Overall, as far as the workplace is concerned, we are going backwards not forwards in implementing human resource policies and are paying the price in an increasingly alienated workforce.  By not speaking out we are neglecting our duty as a profession. 

So it is time to adopt another hymn and fight the good fight.  This autumn I shall be launching a campaign on what I see as the most immediate problem in today's workplace: The lack of meaningful job opportunities for young workers.  In particular I intend to address the way in which the term apprenticeship has become devalued to the extent that it has been rendered almost meaningless. Those readers who agree with me will be invited to support the campaign by promoting an on-line petition.

About the author
Martyn Sloman is a visiting professor at Kingston Business School and a teaching fellow at Birkbeck College. He is principal consultant to TJ's L&D 2020 project and can be contacted at martynsloman@me.com
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