Publication - Research and analysis

Young people's experiences of precarious and flexible work – Main Report

The research report presents findings on young people's experiences of precarious and flexible work. These work conditions included where young people had for example zero hours contracts, low wages, lack of progression opportunities, dissatisfaction with current employment, or varying hours.

Young people's experiences of precarious and flexible work – Main Report
6. Experience of young people in precarious and flexible working conditions

6. Experience of young people in precarious and flexible working conditions

Chapter 6 addresses a number of RQs. The findings reported on young people's experiences of precarious or flexible working conditions addressed RQ4: What are the experiences of young people in a range of potentially precarious or flexible working conditions? RQ5: Are there any particular disadvantages, challenges, advantages or opportunities of different potentially precarious or flexible working conditions? RQ6: What is it about the terms of employment that cause specific disadvantages? And RQ7: To what extent can different potentially precarious or flexible working conditions be considered as positive experiences for young people? These questions are all shown in more detail in Table 1.2 in Chapter 1.

This chapter reports on the most positive characteristics of employment, biggest issues with their employment, impact it has on various aspects of life, satisfaction with employment and reasons for this. As reported throughout, there were many differences in experiences, views and behaviours between those in precarious or flexible work and those who were not. This chapter clearly identifies these differences as well as differences by age, education status and financial dependence amongst those who were in precarious or flexible work.

Chapter 6 – Key points

Half of the people in precarious or flexible work were satisfied with their terms of employment overall (this compares with three-quarters of those not in precarious or flexible work). The focus groups shed light on why people were dissatisfied: not having a written contract, feeling pressured to accept shifts, and uncertainty about working hours / times.

For people in precarious or flexible work, the main positive characteristic of their employment was their colleagues (mentioned by 45%). Also important were they enjoyed the work, the location, level of pay, gaining experience and flexibility. Notably those in precarious or flexible work were significantly less likely than others to say they enjoy the work (33% compared with 40%), with the younger group of precarious or flexible workers less likely to enjoy their work (26%). 7% of those in precarious or flexible work said their most recent employment had no positive characteristics.

The biggest issues for people in precarious or flexible work were unsociable hours, low pay, lack of benefits & irregular hours, and long hours.

A substantial minority of those in precarious or flexible work felt that their employment was having adverse impacts on their lives. For example around a fifth felt it impacted negatively on their mental health (21%) or on their relationships (17%); while nearly a third felt it impacted negatively on their social lives.

6.1 Advantages of employment

The quantitative research found the top two positive characteristics of employment for both sub-groups were the "people I work with" and "enjoy the work" (Table 6.1). However, those in precarious or flexible work were significantly less likely to state that they enjoy the work (33%) compared to those not working in these positions (40%). The third most positive aspect for those in precarious or flexible positions was the location. They were less likely to state the variety of work, development opportunities, and benefits than those not in precarious / flexible positions. They were more likely to state the flexibility of shifts and the fact they have no commitments. 7% of this sub-group also stated there were no positive aspects of their employment.

Q14. What are the top three most positive characteristics of your recent employment?

Table 6.1: Most positive characteristics of employment
Total Sample Not precarious/ flexible Precarious/ flexible
People I work with 43% 41% 45%
Enjoy the work 37% 40% 33%
Location 29% 26% 31%
Level of pay 29% 30% 28%
Experience I am gaining 29% 30% 27%
Flexibility of shifts/hours 17% 13% 20%
Type/quality of work 15% 17% 13%
Variety of work 13% 16% 10%
The number of working hours 12% 13% 11%
Opportunities given to develop/promotion 10% 15% 7%
Benefits e.g. sick pay, holiday pay 7% 12% 4%
Reputation of the company 7% 9% 6%
No commitment/contract 4% 0% 7%
Opportunities given to travel 2% 3% 2%
The number/length of breaks 2% 3% 1%
Something else 1% 1% 1%
Nothing 5% 2% 7%
Base: all 1,043 473 569

Among the precarious and flexible workers, the older age group was more likely to state that they enjoyed the work (38%) than the younger age group (26%). Those in full time education were more likely to give the level of pay (34%) as a positive aspect of their job compared to those in part-time education (15%). They were also more likely to be positive about the location (36%) and flexibility of shifts (27%) compared to those not in education (26%, 13%).

This was further supported by the qualitative findings as the two of the top three positive characteristics that were mentioned most by those in precarious or flexible work were: the people they work with and the location.

"I think it's important that you get on with the people you work with, because then you want to go." (Galashiels focus group participant)

6.2 Satisfaction with employment

Figure 6.1 reports the extent to which the quantitative respondents were satisfied with the terms of their employment overall. Those in a precarious or flexible position were less likely to rate their satisfaction an 8, 9 or 10 out of 10 (50%) compared to those not in a precarious or flexible position (73%). This was supported by TUC research (TUC 2016) which reports workers in more casual employment or with no regular hours of work were less likely to experience job satisfaction than those who have regular hours or were in permanent positions.

There were no differences reported by age or education status amongst those in precarious or flexible work. The TUC report, reviewed as part of the evidence review, also found that there was no correlation between job satisfaction and age or gender.

Figure 6.1: Satisfaction with terms of employment overall

Q11. Thinking about your terms of employment overall, how satisfied are you/were you with it?

Bar chart showing satisfaction with terms of employment overall. Displayed as a percentage, with respondents selecting satisfaction level on a scale (0-10).

Base (all): 1043

Precarious/flexible 569

Not precarious/flexible 473

6.3 Reasons for satisfaction

Respondents were asked to state why they gave the satisfaction rating they did. The comments provided were grouped in to key themes. Table 6.2 below shows the key themes that were mentioned the most by those who rated satisfaction with their employment a 9 or 10 out of 10. These are similar to the positive characteristics given about their employment shown in Table 6.1. A similar order of reasons were given across both sub-groups; however those in precarious or flexible work were more likely to state it suited their circumstances than those not in precarious or flexible work.

Q12 - Why did you give the rating you did for satisfaction?

Table 6.2: Reasons for being satisfied with employment
Total Sample Not precarious/ flexible Precarious/ flexible
Enjoy the work / tasks 36% 40% 31%
Good job / good conditions / no complaints 13% 11% 15%
Good management / company 11% 12% 10%
Good pay / happy with pay 9% 10% 8%
Like my colleagues 9% 7% 12%
Learning skills / gaining experience 8% 8% 9%
Suits my circumstances 8% 4% 13%
Given flexible hours 6% 5% 8%
Like the hours 6% 6% 5%
Base: all who rated satisfaction 9 or 10 413 244 169

*Only results 6% or over are shown in the tables

The qualitative findings also provided further insight into why many of the respondents were satisfied with their employment or aspects of it.

Flexibility of shifts and hours

Some felt the lack of a contract worked in the respondents' favour as it allowed for the flexibility of shifts enabling them to work around other commitments. A small minority felt there was some give and take from managers, they would work extra shifts last minute but their manager would give them an early finish if they had other commitments. This tended to be in smaller organisations. One respondent (who works in a family-run business) was always given a Saturday to work, however this was a trade-off for always having a Saturday evening off so he could watch the football. He felt that he would struggle to find that degree of flexibility in a larger organisation.

"A lot of the time I wanted to go to the football. So, they were ok to do that, but it means that I would be working like a Saturday night, which is when it's busy and when most people don't want to work so I could get Saturday daytime off" (Glasgow focus group participant)

In support of this, the evidence review noted (Taylor, 2017) that flexibility is viewed as a positive characteristic for some. It can open up work to people with different needs and priorities and at different stages in life. The CIPD research (2017) also found that 46% of the gig economy workers were satisfied with their work over the last 12 months due to the flexibility that came with the job. This report solely looked at the gig economy and all age groups and findings were not broken down by age.

Automated approach

A small minority of the qualitative respondents had engaged with a recruitment agency to find their job and a couple of them also signed up to an online system. A lot of the engagement was done via an App, email or on a rare occasion by phone. Findings suggest that for some this less personal approach was found to be an advantage. They didn't feel obliged to take on all work that was offered/available to them and as the personal element was removed they found it easier to turn down work, and just work when it suited them.

Stepping stone

Many qualitative respondents mentioned viewing these types of jobs as short-term and did not view them as a career, as something they would still be doing after completing their studies or when they were older. They were generally quite happy because of this.

"It was only for a summer term job. If it was a more long-term thing, I would have been a bit more put off by it." (Dundee focus group participant)

"Everyone's got to start somewhere, but in terms of actually getting anywhere, it's like a stepping stone that you kind of just have to do to get started." (Galashiels focus group participant)

As previously reported for many this was a stepping stone to gain experience, earn some money before getting a "proper job".

6.4 Disadvantages of employment

The quantitative respondents were also asked what their top three biggest issues were in relation to their employment. Table 6.3 shows that, just under a half (49%) of those not in precarious work and just under a third (31%) of those in precarious work stated "nothing". The top issues given by people in precarious or flexible work were: unsociable hours, low pay, lack of benefits and irregular hours. This differed slightly for those not in precarious work as long hours was considered a top issue for them along with unsociable hours. Those in precarious or flexible positions were significantly more likely to state that each of the aspects below was an issue compared to those not in precarious or flexible work.

There were no differences amongst those in precarious or flexible work except that those who were financially independent were more likely to state that long hours was an issue (19%) compared to those who are not financially independent (10%).

Q15. What are the top three biggest issues in relation to your most recent employment?

Table 6.3: Biggest issues in relation to most recent employment
Total Sample Not precarious/ flexible Precarious/ flexible
Nothing 39% 49% 31%
Unsociable hours 17% 15% 18%
Low pay/lack of financial security 14% 9% 18%
Lack of benefits e.g. sick pay, holiday pay / rewards / pension 10% 4% 15%
Irregularity of hours per week/month 10% 4% 15%
Long hours 15% 16% 13%
Too few hours given 9% 4% 12%
Expected to do more than other colleagues 8% 8% 9%
Lack of notice given when being informed of hours/changes to hours 7% 5% 9%
Location 7% 4% 9%
Lack of opportunities to develop / promotional opportunities 7% 5% 8%
The type of work given 7% 7% 7%
People I work with 7% 6% 8%
Limited/unstructured breaks 6% 5% 7%
Unfair allocation of hours e.g. first come first served 4% 3% 5%
Too many hours given 3% 3% 3%
Something else 4% 5% 3%
Base: all 1043 473 569

Again, the qualitative findings supported the quantitative results as the issues that were mentioned the most by those in precarious or flexible work were low pay, lack of job security, last minute changes to shifts and working unsociable hours or weekends.

"It's unsociable hours, I'm nursing so I'm going to have to do night shifts. But it's whether you're at uni, so on some days I've had to come up a night shift and go to a lecture at uni in the morning because you can't miss it, but then I need the money and if you get put on that shift there's not much you can do." (Edinburgh focus group participant)

"The cost of living doesn't change. Say I lived on my own, someone the age of thirty-six lived on their own, we're next door neighbours, we work at the same place but yet I'm going to be more skint than what they are. I'm doing the same amount of work but the price of bread and milk doesn't change, the price of electric doesn't change. But yet, we're doing the same amount of work and I'm getting less pay." (Peterhead focus group participant)

Research reviewed in the evidence review (Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, 2016 and TUC, 2016) suggested that many working conditions associated with potentially precarious employment can impact negatively on people's lives in a number of ways, including deterioration of health, relationships, financial constraints, low levels of job satisfaction and limited social life. Figure 6.2 shows the proportion of quantitative respondents that stated their most recent employment impacts negatively on certain aspects of their life. The biggest impact reported is on their social life; this affects both audiences, with 26% of those not in precarious or flexible work and 31% of those in precarious or flexible work stating it (this difference is not statistically significant). A statistically significantly higher proportion (21%) of those in precarious or flexible work stated their employment has a negative impact on their mental health compared to those not in precarious or flexible work (15%). Fewer stated that their relationships and physical health is affected negatively. With regards to finances, 7% of those in precarious or flexible work stated their employment has a negative impact on their finances in general, this was significantly higher than those not in precarious / flexible work (2%).

Figure 6.2: Negative impact of job on aspects of life (negative Impact)

Q13. To what extent would you say your most recent employment impacts on each of the following aspects of your life? (% is those who stated negative impact)

Bar chart showing negative impact of job on aspects of life (displayed as a percentage, with respondents selecting which aspects of life have been impacted).

Base: Precarious/flexible 569

Not precarious/flexible 473

Among precarious or flexible workers, the older group (20-24 year olds) were more likely to state that their employment has a positive impact on their physical health (55%) compared with the younger group (44%). The younger group were more likely to state that their employment has no impact on their physical health (45%) or their mental health (43%).

6.5 Reasons for dissatisfaction

Respondents were asked to state why they gave the satisfaction rating they did. The comments provided were grouped into key themes. Table 6.4 below shows the key themes that were mentioned most by those who rated satisfaction with their employment between 0 and 4. The main concerns were management issues, not liking the work and the unpredictable hours. Those in precarious or flexible positions also stated it was due to having an insecure position or poor pay. Findings for those not in precarious or flexible work is not included as the sample size was 22.

Q12 - Why did you give the rating you did for satisfaction?

Table 6.4: Reasons for being dissatisfied with employment
Total Sample Precarious/ flexible
Management problems 36% 25%
Don't enjoy work / tasks 13% 17%
Unpredictable hours 11% 27%
Poor pay 9% 17%
Insecure or temporary position 9% 19%
Poor conditions / not good place to work 8% 6%
Too few hours 8% 9%
Don't like my colleagues 6% 5%
Feel undervalued 6% 5%
Base: all who rated satisfaction 0 to 4 86 64

*Only results 6% of total sample or over are shown in table 6.4

The qualitative findings gave some further insight in to why those working in these precarious or flexible positions might be dissatisfied.

Lack of contract

Across all focus groups not having a written, agreed contract can cause issues for some, with one respondent stating he had an issue with being underpaid initially but didn't have any formal evidence of this.

Those that have a contract for a set number of hours also described issues such as the hours allocated being inconsistent depending on the time of year.

"Mine is a four hour contract but it can vary. On average just now my hours are 19 hours a week but next week they could drop down to four hours and there is nothing I can do about it. It is pretty crap because it's seasonal. You'll get all these paid hours, but then as soon as it's not busy you'll get dropped right down to your contract hours, which is four." (Peterhead focus group participant)

Allocation of shifts

Across all focus groups, some of the qualitative respondents described feeling a certain amount of pressure to accept shifts. This could be in the form of financial pressure due to their own personal circumstances as well as pressure from their manager to take on shifts. In both cases, the pressure is as a result of the uncertainty of other shifts being offered at a later date in the month or in general. This tended to be respondents who engaged directly with the owner or manager of the workplace rather than via an agency. A few also felt that shifts were unfairly allocated with managers using a 'first come , first served' approach. Some were also not given a lot of notice when allocated their shifts for the week.

"If you don't work like three shifts, even if you're on holiday or sick, you just get automatically fired and you can't work anymore." (Glasgow focus group participant)

"If they ask someone else to do it, and then they do it, they might just say to me 'well this person's going to do it more often now'. So there's a pressure if you don't keep doing it when they ask, they will just find someone else in the future." (Dundee focus group participant)

"My shifts are all put on a work group chat, my management and I have a group chat, and it's basically whoever can get in for the shifts the fastest so it's not very fair way really." (Glasgow focus group participant)

The TUC's Living on the Edge report (2016) reviewed as part of the evidence review mirrored the qualitative findings. It reported that there was pressure faced by workers to accept working hours that may not be suitable. Requirements to comply with short notice requests created challenges for some workers. Workers also felt that refusing to agree to shift changes could make them vulnerable and that they could be starved of hours in the future. This report covered a wide age range, England only and three sectors: retail, logistics/delivery and higher education.

Lack of jobs

There were some comments from those in the focus groups in Dundee that the availability of work was poor in the area because there was a lot of competition, particularly from students looking for the same type of work that is flexible and works in and around their studies.

"It is quite competitive with other students. They only pick one person, but obviously everyone applies for the same type of things" (Dundee focus group participant)

6.6 Positive Experiences

A number of the qualitative respondents commented they viewed the job they had as a stepping stone as it was in a sector or industry they were interested in working in or studying e.g. agriculture. One 16 year old didn't know exactly what she wanted to do when she was older but had a passion for agriculture and animals. She currently worked at weekends in a large agricultural store and views it as a great stepping stone to her future studies and career.

"I work at an agricultural store and I quite enjoy it because it's what I'm interested in, obviously with agriculture and animals and stuff. But I do feel like I'm not paid enough for what I do, but because I'm only sixteen I think that's got a lot to do with my wage but I do just the same work as the other people. I am glad of the experience though." (Galashiels focus group participant)

Another respondent currently had a 'dream job' as a beauty therapist at a popular hotel and spa resort. She had been offered this immediately after graduating and considered it a great way to gain experience and get a taste of working in the industry. The younger audience tended to view their jobs as a way to start earning their own money and get some general experience on their CV. One qualitative respondent had struggled to find a job in retail because she had no customer service experience so she managed to get a job via an agency working at food kiosks at large events with the view of eventually using that experience to get a job in a fashion store.

The qualitative research findings suggest that getting on the job ladder can give young people a bit of independence, improve confidence, develop life skills, give them opportunities to work with the public, work with money etc. and start to teach them how to budget their own money. The job still needs to fit in with their lifestyle and other commitments, therefore flexibility of hours and shifts is needed, particularly for the youngest age group (16-19 year olds).

"I benefitted from it [flexible contract] loads in high school because I did lots of different sports and studying obviously. It was really good that I could balance working with school" (Galashiels focus group participant)

"I'd just say for people at uni or college or school, just studying, the zero-hour contracts are good for flexibility." (Edinburgh focus group participant)

"I don't have set hours because it's a zero-hour contract. I just kind of get given the hours that I get. When I was at college, I asked for less hours because obviously I couldn't make it due to college. When it was summer, when I was off, I just asked for as many hours as I could possibly get." (Glasgow focus group participant)

The evidence review concluded that people value different facets of work and are prepared to sacrifice or trade one condition of employment for another that suits their circumstances. The CIPD research reported that some individuals may prefer to reduce their flexibility in return for greater job security or opt for maximum flexibility but find that pay suffers as a result (CIPD, 2017). Therefore, these types of contracts and employment types can work well and provide useful experience for some individuals.


Contact

Email: youngpersonguar@gov.scot