A newly-published study from scholars at Oxford University investigates the situation of the estimated 70 million people around the world who make their living in the gig economy through freelancing platforms like Freelancer.com and Fiverr. Through a combination of face-to-face interviews and a remote survey of digital freelancers in Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, the authors gauged how workers in this substantial segment of the global economy felt about the advantages and disadvantages of this kind of work. TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas outlines the study’s key findings:
The study paints a mixed picture, with — on the one hand — gig workers reporting feeling they can remotely access stimulating and challenging work, and experiencing perceived autonomy and discretion over how they get a job done: A large majority (72 percent) of respondents said they felt able to choose and change the order in which they undertook online tasks, and 74 percent said they were able to choose or change their methods of work.
At the same time — and here the negatives pile in — workers on the platforms lack collective bargaining so are simultaneously experiencing a hothouse of competitive marketplace and algorithmic management pressure, combined with feelings of social isolation (with most working from home), and the risk of overwork and exhaustion as a result of a lack of regulations and support systems, as well as their own economic needs to get tasks done to earn money.
Augmenting the competitive nature of the digital gig economy, the study found, is an imbalance of supply and demand for these workers’ labor: More than half the workers surveyed said there was not enough work available to them. People performing low-skilled tasks on these platforms must take a large number of gigs to earn an adequate income through them.
A new analysis from the Trades Union Congress finds that one in 12 employees in the UK are not receiving the full amount of annual paid leave to which they are entitled by law, while 1.2 million are not getting any paid leave at all. Adam McCulloch highlights the repot at Personnel Today:
Agriculture (14.9%) was the sector where the highest proportion of workers was likely to miss out and retail was where the highest number of staff were losing out (348,000 people). … Employees are entitled to 28 days’ annual leave (pro rata) including public holidays but, according to the unions body, unrealistic workloads, managers failing to agree time off and a failure by businesses to keep up with the law was behind the high numbers losing out.
The TUC is urging HMRC to be given powers to clamp down on employers who deny staff their statutory holiday entitlement. This would include the power to ensure that workers are fully compensated for missed holidays.
The TUC report comes just a few months after a Glassdoor survey came out showing that only 43 percent of UK employees were using more than 90 percent of their holiday entitlement, while another 40 percent were using less than half of it. The TUC analysis was based on unpublished data from the Labour Force Survey conducted by the UK’s Office of National Statistics; Glassdoor’s figures came from a 2,000-person online survey carried out in April.
Whereas the Glassdoor survey focused on whether employees were using their leave entitlement, the TUC is more concerned with whether some employers are denying their workers the right to use it. “Employers have no excuse for robbing staff of their well-earned leave. UK workers put in billions of hours of unpaid overtime as it is, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said. “The government must toughen up enforcement to stop bosses cheating staff out of their leave.“
A recent survey by Glassdoor finds that very few employees in the UK are using all of their paid leave entitlement, while 40 percent of them are using less than half of it, Personnel Today’s Adam McCulloch observes:
The average figure of holiday taken by UK employees was 62%, while 91-100% of holiday entitlement was taken by 43%, the study found. A remarkable 13% reported only taking 20% of their allowance. The online survey carried out in April garnered responses from 2,000 full and part-time employed adults and also gauged the amount of work people said they did while taking time off. The results revealed that 23% of those on holiday regularly checked emails and 15% continued doing some work out of fear of being behind on their return and of missing targets.
Young workers were the least likely to take their full holiday entitlement, with only 35% of 18-24 year olds and 40% of 25-34 year olds taking all of their allowance. Half of employees (50%) said they could completely relax on holiday and that there was no expectation from their employers that they should be contactable. However, 20% reported that they were expected to be reachable and available to carry out some work if needed.
The underuse of vacation time may be a factor in the high levels of overwork and overload UK employees report, which cause stress and contribute to mental and physical health problems. Nearly one third of workers said in the latest edition of the CIPD’s UK Working Lives report that they suffered to some extent from “unmanageable” workloads, while 22 percent said they often felt “under excessive pressure,” another 22 percent said they felt “exhausted,” and 11 percent reported feeling “miserable” at work.
The UK Working Lives report, billed by the CIPD as its first comprehensive survey of the British workforce based on its new Job Quality Index, was released on Wednesday. Surveying around 6,000 workers throughout the country, the report aims to produce a clearer and more objective picture of the quality of the jobs available to employees in the UK, “using seven critical dimensions which employees, employers and policy makers can measure and focus on to raise job quality and improve working lives”:
The health and value of the modern economy has long been gauged purely on quantitative measures such as gross domestic product, growth rates and productivity. A concerted focus on advancing the qualitative aspects of jobs and working lives will prove to be the next step forward.
Overall, the picture the report paints of the British workplace is positive for a majority of employees: Most said they were satisfied with their jobs, while 80 percent said they had good relationship with their managers and 91 percent said they had good relationships with their colleagues. Nearly 60 percent said they would choose to work even if they didn’t have to. Nonetheless, substantial numbers of respondents identified overwork, stress, and mental health concerns related to their jobs, pointing to shortcomings in the impact work is having on their quality of life.
Three in ten workers told the CIPD they suffered to some extent from “unmanageable” workloads, while 6 percent said they were regularly swamped with “far too much” work each day. While 30 percent reported feeling “full of energy” at work most of the time, 22 percent said they often felt “under excessive pressure,” another 22 percent said they felt “exhausted,” and 11 percent reported feeling “miserable.” And although 44 percent said work had a positive impact on their mental health overall, a full 25 percent said the opposite. In terms of their physical health, only 33 percent said they thought work had a positive impact versus 27 percent who said its effect was negative.
New York City Councilman Rafael Espinal has introduced a bill that would “make it unlawful for private employers in the city of New York to require employees to check and respond to email and other electronic communications during non-work hours.” The proposed law would apply to private organizations with more than ten employees and would fine violators $250 for each instance of noncompliance. The rationale behind the bill is to combat the high incidence of overwork among New York City residents, the New York Times’ Jonathan Wolfe notes:
The average New Yorker already works 49 hours and 8 minutes a week, longer than their counterparts in the next 29 largest cities in the U.S., according to a 2015 report by the city comptroller. And that’s not including hours spent emailing at home. A 2017 study found that, on average, workers spend an extra eight hours a week sending email after work. Research has also shown that people who responded to work communications after 9 p.m. had a worse quality of sleep and were less engaged the next day.
“When you don’t have recovery and time off, it leads to more stress and ultimately burnout and exhaustion,” said Larissa K. Barber, a professor of psychology at Northern Illinois University who conducts research on work-life balance and coined a term for the urge to respond: “telepressure.”
The law is modeled after the “right to disconnect” law that came into effect in France last year, which mandates that organizations of more than 50 people agree with their employees on hours when they are not required to perform online work tasks like checking email. Modern telecommunications indeed pose a challenge in terms of work-life balance, as employees who work at all hours run a greater risk of burnout and stress.
Like some other East Asian economies, South Korea has long been known for a highly demanding work culture that rewards long hours and measures employees’ commitment by how much overtime they are willing to work. The country is one of the hardest-working in the OECD, with South Koreans working an average of 2,069 hours in 2016, compared to 1,783 hours in the US and just 1,363 hours in Germany. That may start to change in the coming years thanks to a bill approved by the National Assembly’s Environment and Labor Committee last Tuesday, which cuts the maximum statutory working hours from 68 hours a week to 52, the Korea Times reported:
Slashing working hours was among the main election pledges of President Moon Jae-in, which he said will improve quality of life as well as help create jobs. However, fewer working hours means higher labor costs for businesses. According to an estimate by the Korea Economic Research Institute, businesses will pay an additional 12.1 trillion won annually to maintain current production while cutting the working hours. This includes wages paid to additional workers hired to cover the hours lost, as well as their training costs.
Business in the Community, a nonprofit organization in the UK, and Public Health England, a government agency, have launched a toolkit for employers to use in their efforts to reduce the impact of sleep deprivation on their workforce, Ashleigh Wight reported last week at Personnel Today:
Their Sleep and Recovery Toolkit encourages employers to create the right sleep culture in the workplace. This includes measures such as providing access to natural light, introducing flexitime for employees who travel or work across different time zones, and avoiding or reducing the frequency of emails sent outside of working hours
The toolkit also provides steps for early intervention before sleep deprivation becomes a problem. These include signposting information that may help employees get a better night’s sleep, redesigning individual workers’ jobs if it becomes apparent they could be tired, and encouraging staff to speak up about issues with sleep. A number of measures to aid with recovery are also suggested, such as making sure employees stay hydrated, take screen breaks and use all of their annual leave entitlement.
While sleep deprivation has been a workplace problem at least since the dawn of the modern era and the advent of shift work, advances in neuroscience have enabled researchers in recent years to pinpoint exactly how not getting enough rest makes us worse at our jobs. In addition to diminishing cognitive function and performance, sleep deprivation can harm emotional intelligence, making us more prone to interpersonal conflicts, while leaders who neglect sleep are less charismatic and have a harder time inspiring their teams.