The chances are you aren’t happy at work. That’s not a just lucky guess, according to a very large, long running employee survey by Gallup (25m employees surveyed in over 195 countries since the late 90’s) most people aren’t.  The global average for enthusiastic, happy workers is only 13%. The global average for people who actively hate their jobs is 23%. Ouch. Behind the global averages there are some wide variations – 30% of US workers are happy (only 17% in the UK) – however, wherever you work, upwards of 60% of your co-workers you are just going through the motions and, the statistics suggest about half of them are looking for a new job.

So why isn’t the workplace working?

There has been a fundamental change in the workplace since the 1980s. In most developed economies the number of lowest paid jobs (the bottom 10% of earners) and the number of highest paid jobs (the top 20% of earners), have grown every year over the last 30 years, but the number of middle ranking jobs (every decile in between) have declined. And this tells us two important things about the modern workplace:

  1. Technology has enabled low paid, low skill workers to do more, reducing the demand for middle-paid workers who used to oversee and manage processes. Technology has also enabled the industrial-scale outsourcing of jobs to low pay economies (in Asia and Eastern Europe) and online markets for cheap freelance labour. The net effect of this since the 1990s saw many industries increase productivity and profits, but not increase investment in their own staff through training or creating new job opportunities for employees to progress up the company career ladder.
  2. As the supply of cheap low-skilled workers drives company growth, and new technology reduces the jobs for middle-tier workers, the demand for high-skilled workers who can’t be replaced by technology goes up. And (because there’s fewer middle-tier workers getting trained-up into high skilled positions) this has driven jobs growth for the top 20% of earners. A lot of this high skilled worker demand has been met by senior level recruitment, headhunting, high-paid contractors and SME consulting firms.

What this means is the traditional notion of getting a job with prospects for promotion (the ‘career ladder’ as it was called) is slowly disappearing, and this is changing the way people relate to the workplace. There’s lots of stats that support that view. Freelancers (both high skilled and low paid ‘gig economy’ workers) are the fastest growing sector of the labour market in the US and EU. Graduates change jobs twice as often in their first 5 years now than 30 years ago. Around 50% of employees in the US are actively seeking new jobs. This trend is called ‘job hopping’ – moving companies to get a promotion – and it’s growing.

Also, according to Gallup, despite most companies offering flexible working arrangements (the happiest employees spend between 20-50% of their time working from home) most people report working when they are sick and working during weekends, evenings and holiday time. And the working week is still averaging between 41-46 hrs in the developed world, and hasn’t changed for decades.

What these numbers suggest is something most people accept (and most recruitment companies will tell you)… the best career move in the modern job market is quitting your current job and finding a better one. Which explains why most of us aren’t that engaged with our current workplace, doesn’t it?

Renegade Reading List:

At Renegade Inc. we’re all about giving people space to make up their own minds. If you want to explore this topic for yourself, here’s a bunch of interesting links we found when researching the topic. Stay curious…

Gallup’s employee engagement portal

Reports and summaries about productivity, economics and employment.–and-will-accelerate

Interesting reports, journalism and data about the changing shape of the workplace, automation & outsourcing

Andrew Keith Walker

Andrew Keith Walker

Andrew Keith Walker is a Renegade Inc. correspondent.

Andrew Keith Walker is a professional geek, writer and speaker. He’s co-founded three successful technology startups, was the first person to interview senior UK politicians (including the UK Prime Minister) on Twitter, written ad campaigns, built games, helped set-up the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), reported on elections for the BBC, been the guest technology pundit on Sky News and radio (BBC R4 Today, PM, World at One, World Have Your Say) & written in newspapers (Independent, Guardian) and magazines (Linux User, .Net, WebUser) about digital technology, business and culture.

Twitter: @Killdozer
Andrew Keith Walker

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