44% of UK workers are not permanent full-time employees

44% of UK workers are not permanent full-time employees
5 minutes read

In terms of secondary social groups, full-time workers and drivers are two of the largest. For example, nearly 42m people hold a driving licence out of a population of 67m, or roughly 62% of people. Similarly, nearly 29m are employed in the UK, or around 43% of the population. It is fairly easy, therefore, to assume that if you are part of both of these groups, you have a lot of like-minded people. Additionally, of the workforce, about 84% of those with children are employed versus 71% of those without. Chances are that if you are reading this in a full-time job, drive a car and have a family, you know lots of similar people. However, what often goes unsaid is that 44% of UK workers are not permanent full-time employees. So, like the Brexit referendum, there is a significant minority. Read on to find out more.


Not full-time permanent employees but flexible

According to Gartner, around 40% of the global workforce will be flexible, temporary or freelance by the end of 2025. This reflects a shifting global mindset towards work, largely attributed to the impact of the pandemic. Here in the UK, we have calculated that we are approaching 26% of people that are freelance, contractors, consultants, self-employed, sole proprietors or zero-hours. This has increased by almost 3% as a proportion of the total number of economically contributing people since the credit crisis. Most notably, those running their own business but not employing anyone has increased by 26.1% over the same period, whilst self-employment has only increased 6.4%.

Perhaps the most shocking is the rise in zero-hours contracts, with the UK now approaching 1.2m people with little to no job security. For those with other time pressures and commitments who need part-time work, there is a marked shift back to hiring full-time employees. Yes, the majority of new jobs created are full-time, permanent roles (3.5m of them in total). This is despite the previously tight labour market, the flexibility during the pandemic and changing views on work-life balance. However, there is also a more hidden increase in those who are not ‘employed’. Yes, there are also 2.1m more self-employed, sole proprietor and zero-hour workers. With 4.5m more people contributing economically than in 2010, over 46% of them are not permanent full-time employees.


Analysis of UK workers

Below is an analysis of the UK workforce from December 2010 to February 2024, assembled from a variety of statistical sources. Please note that some of these figures are official Government estimates and as such, despite rigorous standards, may contain a small degree of error.


UK workforce (millions) 2024 2010 Change
Full-Time Employed 21.8 18.3 19.1%
Part-Time Employed 6.8 6.8 (0.2%)
Subtotal Employed 28.6 25.1 13.9%
Unpaid or Supported Training 0.1 0.2 (44.6%)
Self-Employed 4.3 4.0 6.4%
Subtotal Workforce 33.0 29.3 12.5%
Non-Employing Businesses 4.1 3.3 26.1%
Total Economically Active 37.1 32.6 13.9%
Sub-analysis (millions) 2024 2010 Change
Self-Employed 4.3 4.0 6.4%
Non-Employing Businesses 4.1 3.3 26.1%
Zero-Hours Contracts 1.2 0.2 586.0%
Subtotal Not ‘Employed’ 9.5 7.4 28.3%
% Not ‘Employed’ 25.7% 22.8% 2.9%
Part-Time Employed 6.8 6.8 (0.2%)
Not Full-Time ‘Employed’ 16.3 14.2 14.7%
% Not Full-Time ‘Employed’ 43.9% 43.6% 0.3%


Implications of 44% of UK workers not full-time employees

Inevitably, with 44% of UK workers not permanent full-time employees, either private or public sector, it begs the question, “So what?”. Additionally, the growth in the workforce since 2010 has seen 46% of new jobs fall into this category. This presents something of a dilemma for Government and employers alike. If the current trajectory continues, we could easily see 50% or more of new workers, particularly Gen-Z and Gen Alpha, choosing something other than permanent full-time employment. Once the cost-of-living situation has passed and the economy returns to growth, could we see a tightening of the labour market?

In terms of unemployment, the lowest rate we have seen since 2010 is 3.7% in the middle of 2022 as the economy ‘re-opened’ for business. Back at the end of 2010, it was 8.0% and it currently stands (at the time of writing) at 4.3%. The 0.6% difference is a swing of about 600,000, which is broadly the available resource across the UK. Since the number of economically inactive is broadly in line with the figures back in 2010, a possible tightening is a concern.

Mixing your workers with flexible resources

With a 28.3% increase in those not directly ‘employed’ by businesses or the public sector, it also requires a different approach. For example, managers are comfortable managing a team of permanent staff. Motivations such as a promotion, collegiality and fear through performance reviews don’t work on non-employees. In recent years, many managers had to adapt to teams across various locations. That meant managing at a distance with minimal travel but substantial use of collaboration and video tools.

In the future, managers may need to blend permanent staff with more contractors to take up slack, freelancers for specialist tasks and regular deliverables from service companies. Additionally, we know that bad managers are a major source of staff attrition. We also know that managers are the main source of business problems. Perhaps a hybrid team of permanent and flexible support is part of the solution, if only the manager were able to manage and lead.

New skills and tools to manage work packages

It is relatively easy to turn to someone and get them to do a piece of work. It is slightly harder when you rely on your mobile, video calls or IM. Furthermore, if you merge in support from teams that do not work for you, at least in a formal capacity, it needs new management skills. For example, ‘man-managing’ becomes less important with third-parties. Managing is also less attractive to Gen-Z, with many happy to remain as they are.

First, you need to organise work into clearly-defined packages of deliverables, which requires a little more planning and preparation. Secondly, you need to know exactly which resource will deliver the task(s) and when. Thirdly, you need tools, such as work planners, to manage multiple workflows from multiple parties. The US is a case study in itself in this regard with Upwork and Fiverr. It is now believed that about 20% of US work is carried out by self-employed freelancers working on specific tasks.

Attracting Gen-Z workers and Gen Alpha

We have written about this before but it should worry many employers. With the younger end of Gen-Z and Gen Alpha (born from 2010 onwards) coming up, they may not want permanent full-time employment. The so-called, ‘zero consumer’ might also be termed the ‘zero employee’. Many value their social activities, personal hobbies, sense of self-identity and flexibility far more than Millennials or Gen-X. This presents a problem, especially when you are offering a 9-5 shift, 5 days per week in an office. Furthermore, since as many as 300 million people globally consider themselves to be active ‘content creators’, it is harder to juggle with work.

Old ideas of a formal career path, advancement up the corporate pole, more responsibilities and longer hours are likely to push people towards self-employment and entrepreneurship. Gig working and freelancing are likely to expand rather than contract. Ultimately, where some employers lament the lack of loyalty, others are adapting at pace.


Understanding employee experience and transforming workplaces

Here at Think Beyond, we don’t stick to the norms. Not only do we take an active interest in our client’s workplace culture but also keep abreast of trends. In order to ready our clients for upcoming challenges, we keep an eye on the future. As people who departed the humdrum rat-race, restrictive corporate culture and internal politics, we can see the challenges for employers. Armed with research tools, ongoing personal development and business reading, we support our clients to think beyond today.

If you would like to arrange an initial discussion, simply drop us a quick note. Alternatively, if you wish to request research or transformation, just ask us for a callback on our services.

Finally, why not read about a technique for improving the effectiveness of teams.