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Britain overworked and underemployed

Yesterday the Office for National Statistics (the ‘ONS’) published a report analysing over- and under- employment in the UK.


According to the ONS report, 3 million people in the UK are underemployed, meaning that they want to work more hours than they are currently employed to do. This can either be by working in an additional job, by working more hours in their current job, or by switching to a replacement job.

The trends…

There was an increase in the percentage of the UK workforce that identified as underemployed following the economic downturn in 2008/09. The underemployment rate reached a peak at the end of 2012 / beginning of 2013 but has been decreasing since then. It is now at the same percentage it was in mid-2009, although it remains above pre-2008 levels.

Who’s most underemployed?

The top 3 roles with the highest percentage of underemployed workers in 2014:-

  1. Personal service occupations (such as bar staff, waiters and waitresses)
  2. Cleaning occupations
  3. Sales assistants and retail cashiers



Interestingly, a very similar number of workers (2.9 million) said they were overemployed, meaning that they wanted to work fewer hours for less pay. Over 9 out of 10 of those people wanted to work fewer hours for less pay in their current job, with the remainder wanting to work fewer hours for less pay in a new job.

The trends…

The percentage of those in work who were overemployed in 2014 is the same as it was in 2008 (9.7%). The percentage increased throughout 2009 but began to decrease again at the start of 2010. Over the longer term, the percentage of workers being overemployed has been decreasing since late 2003 when it peaked at 11.5%.

Who’s most overemployed?

The top 3 roles with the highest percentage of overemployed workers:-

  1. Health professionals (such as medical and dental practitioners)
  2. Chief executives and senior officials
  3. Senior officers in protective services (such as officers in the armed forces and senior police officers)

What does it mean?

Commenting on the ONS report in The Guardian newspaper, the TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“It makes no sense that there are so many people wanting more work, while others complain of being overworked and want fewer hours. The government should strengthen flexible working rights, which could help solve both problems.”
She called for the extension of employment protection and benefits to workers who accept flexible contracts as one way to prevent 20% of the workforce from being over or underemployed.

Do you think that strengthening flexible working rights would help to solve the problem?

Earlier this year we blogged about the right to request flexible working being extended from 30 June 2014, so that all employees with 26 weeks’ service now have the right to request. It will be interesting to see if that change affects next years’ over- and under- employment statistics.


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