Local workers struggle with poor work-life balance

Much more focus needs to be given to improving job quality for workers across Northern Ireland, according to the CIPD’s Working Lives Northern Ireland report. The flagship report is the first comprehensive analysis of job quality in Northern Ireland, examining job quality across seven different dimensions.

The report finds that a concerning 40% of all employees report their workload as too high in a normal week. Furthermore, nearly a third (31%) of employees feel their work impacts negatively on their mental health, with 28% reporting negative impacts on their physical health.

A worrying 45% of all employees report going to work despite not being well enough to do so. This is even higher for those with adult caring responsibilities (61%), with disabilities (64%) and for key workers (52%).

Poor work-life balance

While the pandemic caused lasting changes to working patterns, the report finds that 32% of all employees work in jobs that can’t be done from home, with persistent gaps in flexible work availability. Furthermore, we outline concerning work-life balance issues in the report, with nearly a third (31%) of all employees saying they find it hard to relax in their personal time because of their job.

And while most employees report good relationships with colleagues and managers in the workplace, we find that over a quarter (26%) experienced at least one type of conflict at work, with 15% saying they experienced two or more types.

As focus shifts to the future of the workplace and employees re-evaluate their priorities, the CIPD calls on employers and policy-makers to focus on improving job quality across all workplaces as we build a post-pandemic Northern Ireland.

Lee Ann Panglea, Head of the CIPD in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the professional body for HR and people development, said:“The last 20 months have been extraordinary for all of us, but especially for the HR profession. Our profession has been front and centre of navigating huge people and organisational challenges across Northern Ireland.”

“As we look towards the ‘new normal’, we must all learn the lessons from the pandemic and ensure that it is a catalyst for positive change. Employers need to keep wellbeing top of their agenda and should be considering flexible working options beyond homeworking, like flexi-time, job sharing or compressed hours if they want to retain and attract employees.”

“Good people practice should be central to achieving inclusive growth and improving job quality and productivity for all employees and employers. Working Lives Northern Ireland provides crucial evidence around some of the challenges, gaps, but also opportunities for progress.”

The report’s author, Marek Zemanik, Senior Public Policy Adviser at the CIPD in Northern Ireland, said:   “Our report shows that the working lives of too many employees across Northern Ireland fall short on a range of issues. We see concerning findings around the impact of work on wellbeing, challenges around work-life balance, workloads or even conflict at work.”

“The pandemic has impacted all of us, but the underlying differences in job quality, for example between occupations, continue to persist. This does not have to be inevitable – all jobs have the potential to be better. Employers and policy-makers have to step up.”

Other interesting findings in Working Lives Northern Ireland include:

  • Nearly a third (31%) of employees always or often feel exhausted at work, with 28% saying they feel under excessive pressure.
  • 37% of all Northern Irish employees feel they are not getting paid appropriately, rising to 50% for the lowest earners (<£20,000 p.a.).
  • 30% of employees feel they are overqualified for their job, rising to 46% of those in the lowest-paid jobs (<£20,000 p.a.).
  • 12% of all employees say they would like to work more hours than they currently do.
  • Over a fifth (21%) of employees say they have no voice channel at work at all.

The CIPD says employers can improve work in a number of ways, such as:

  • Keeping wellbeing high on the agenda, even as the pandemic subsides.
  • Prioritising better skills development – especially for those in routine and semi-routine roles.   
  • Monitoring workloads and putting enough resources in place to avoid overwork. 
  • Reviewing flexible working options to address the work–life balance challenges your workforce faces. Look beyond remote working and consider how and when people work, not just where. 

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