Work is unimportant or is it just that profit is more important?

Work is unimportant or is it just that profit is more important
5 minutes read

Most people will have seen the results of a survey from King’s College London, which displayed how low the UK places work in importance versus 23 other countries. Just 73% say that it is important to them. The old adage of whether you live to work or work to live seems to be in flux. The Guardian made a case that hard work no longer brings a better life. This narrative may not be entirely true. For example, weekly earnings have risen by 118%[i] since the start of 2000 while inflation ran at 80%. Whilst not entirely conclusive, this does suggest that earnings have outstripped inflation. Also, the 1990 importance was at 76%, so things have not exactly collapsed. However, whilst 35% said that work should come first in 2009, this has dropped to only 22%. Today, we ask if work is unimportant or is it just that profit is more important?


Work is unimportant to certain generations

It may not come as a great surprise to find that some younger generations have different views on work, much as they do in other areas. Ultimately, the world today is very different to 100 years ago. While the baby boomers have prioritised work since 2009, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z are way below them. Gen X and Millennials, in particular, have shown a marked change. Millennials put work first in 2009 at 41% but by last year it was just 14%. Since the definition of a Millennial is anyone born between 1981 and 1996, these people were between 41 and 26 at the time of the survey. According to the ONS, Millennials accounted for 21.5%[ii] of the population from the 2021 census. Furthermore, with 37.5m[iii] people of working age in the same census, Millennials were 38.4% of the workforce. Now, we start to see where the problem may be – the question is, why?

Some suggest that wage stagnation means work does not pay. Others suggest that the social contract is broken, which is a possibility with the average FTSE 100 CEO earning more in 3 days than the average worker does in 1 year. Furthermore, a KCL professor suggested that many feel that the “dice is loaded against them while others get ahead, even if they work hard”. Given the Millennial cohort has displayed the largest shift in attitudes, the last comment may particularly ring true.


Profit more important than work?

We previously wrote about how the expectations on businesses are changing. The maximisation of profit for shareholders is no longer as simple with so many stakeholders. However, though some organisations are more adept at satisfying multiple stakeholders than others, some hope not to get caught. Most board remuneration packages are substantial, alienating the top tier from the organisation that they oversee. Poor performance at lower levels may affect the money in your pocket, but not significantly enough for a root-and-branch transformation. In some cases, your employees simply do not understand the financial decisions of their employer. Additionally, they may not realise how much of a large profit is reinvested in the business, assuming that it goes into your pockets.

It was interesting to hear the views of one of Australia’s richest people, who was keen to crack the whip. He suggested that workers have become arrogant and need reminding that they work for the employer. It is perhaps easy to say when you are worth nearly £0.5bn. Inevitably, it prompted a backlash. Some will have agreed with his sentiments but less so with his delivery of the message. Crucially, he later acknowledged the profound impact of losing your livelihood. It goes without saying that this sort of criticism may exacerbate the problem he bemoans.


Work is unimportant but I am going nowhere

Whether we call it ‘quiet-quitting’ or something else, there are groups of people in any organisation that need or want a generous work-life balance. There may be a host of reasons for this. As a result, some will work to their contracted hours, some will routinely claim TOIL (time off in lieu) and some will work the minimum they can get away with. The reasons for this are plentiful and complicated. For example, some will relate to personal and family commitments. Others may be due to a poor employee experience. Ultimately, in our experience, few are genuinely lazy. Unfortunately, in many organisations, the volume of work means that others may be picking up the slack involuntarily. They may also resent their colleagues who they perceive as having an easy ride or getting away with it.

In terms of performance, many organisations operate their performance review system using a ‘bell curve’. This means that around 10% of the workforce are considered high potential/talented or essential to our future. The bottom 10% are considered as ‘in need of attention’. The majority in the middle are perhaps fighting to be in the top 10% or to avoid dropping into the bottom 10%. Additionally, though performance ratings are far from an exact science, some of the 80% may be ‘cruising’ and keeping their head down. They may have the skills and knowledge to do a great job but be withholding their best performance and hardest efforts. Jack Welch suggested that you should fire the bottom 10% of your staff, but we suggest this is wide of the reality, especially in the UK. The question is not just in terms of ‘if’ it can be done but if the ‘who’ is truly accurate of who needs to move on.


Keeping work important

Here at Think Beyond, we are great advocates of employee experience, roles that people want and training great managers. If the social contract is strained between organisations and their workers, perhaps it needs some attention. From onboarding and exit studies to employee experience programmes and organisational design, we can support your change. We also offer bespoke training, tailored to the specific needs of your teams and individuals. So, if it seems that work is unimportant to some of your staff, perhaps we can change that.

So, if you would like to discuss how to keep work important, why not arrange an introduction. Alternatively, why not ask us to call you back or find out more about a specific service.

Finally, why not read more about the pros of bringing in outside help.


[i]  ONS data

[ii] ONS data

[iii] UK Gov data