Low pay, part-time and job satisfaction

We seem to be getting a flurry of useful reports just now.  Last week it was the turn of the CIPD to publish very solid one on Pay progressionfocussing on the barriers for the low-paid to moving up the ladder.  It has a very strong Foreword from Sir Charlie Mayfield, Chairman (sic) of the John Lewis Partnership.  He argues that our low pay reflects a productivity problem, and notes how many low-paid people have no clear paths to show them how they might progress.

The CIPD use the three  categories of low-pid worker which were developed originally by the Resolution Foundation, and which have proved themselves sound:

– Stuck are those who remain in low-pay over a 10-year period

– Escapers: those who start in low pay but find their way out

– Cyclers: those who move in and out of low pay.

About 20% of the low-paid are stuck, just under 40 are % escapers and just over 40% cycle in and out.  Many young people are cyclers, not surprisingly;  quite a few of them, especially the better qualified, can expect eventually to escape.

It’s no surprise that women are far more likely to be stuck than men, and somewhat more likely to be cyclers.  Getting on for 2 in 3 low-paid women are stick or cyclers, compared to 40% of men.  Much of this is due to their greater likelihood of being part-time.  Working more than a year part-time within a 5-year or 10-year period is strongly linked to being stuck.

This is predictable, and familiar to readers of the blog, but important.  Less predictable is the relationship between low pay and job satisfaction.  Stuck low-paid people have higher levels of job satisfaction that the cyclers or escapers.  Of course this is in one sense natural:  if you like your job you’re more likely to stay in it, despite the low pay.  So there are trade-offs to be made, and that’s what life is made of.  But the CIPD report is very strong with its concrete recommendations on how employers could do more to provide pathways for people to progress out of their low pay.  They suggest that employers should think about ‘professionalising’ routes into higher pay, providing small steps upwards, especially for part-timers.  Definitely on the right track.

The research also involved qualitative material from focus groups: younger and older men and women, from London and Sheffield.  One quote struck chords with me.  It’s from an older woman, talking about the courage required to go for a new job:

“Years ago when you went for a job you were normally interviewed by one person and they normally offered you the job there and then.  But it’s not like that now;  it feels like an interrogation…You feel sick before you even go, don’t you?…So if you’re the sort of person who can sell yourself, then fine, but if you’re not then once you’re in a job it’s easier to stay there.”

I’ve found in the interviews I’ve been doing that women sometimes express an ambivalence about the system of selection and promotion at work.  On the one hand it seems to have become less arbitrary , i.e. less a matter of someone just fingering you for the job according to their own preferences;  on the other hand women often find the process quite intimidating.  They seem less comfortable with the idea of ‘selling yourself”, especially if they think it’s a matter of using the right rhetoric rather than sound  evidence on what they can do.   Practically that’s quite a hard one for HR people to deal with.  It’s part of a wider issue around how a person’s ‘value’ is demonstrated, and rewarded.

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