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Trouble at Work: Welsh Workers Suffer More Ill-treatment

26 July 2012

Having a job in Wales puts you at higher risk of workplace ill-treatment than many other parts of Britain, a new book by researchers at the Cardiff School of Social Sciences and University of Plymouth shows.

Workers in Wales are the most likely to experience incivility and disrespect, including threats and intimidation. Along with workers in Yorkshire and Humberside, Welsh employees are also the most likely to experience unreasonable treatment. Problems include being denied the help they need to work at their best, having their opinions and views ignored, being subjected to unnecessary checking, unmanageable workloads and employers failing to follow proper procedures.

The book, Trouble at Work shows that workers in London are the least likely to experience unreasonable treatment, incivility and disrespect, and also violence and injury. The authors suggest the most likely reason is that Wales has more of the type of jobs where managers expect to keep a close eye on workers. Managers in other regions, particularly London, are more likely to rely on the behaviour of customers and clients to tell them if workers are doing a good job. The findings are in line with what is already known about the characteristics of Welsh jobs such as lower pay and lower skill. One of the authors, Professor Ralph Fevre of the School of Social Sciences, said: "Where the profile of a job means employers focus on getting employees to work harder rather than smarter, it makes sense to expect more ill-treatment."

Welsh workers are more likely to be directly controlled by managers and less likely to be managed indirectly by managers monitoring things like repeat orders or customer satisfaction. Professor Fevre explained: "Of course there are jobs in Wales which deal with customers, including lots of jobs in call centres. But if you work in a call centre you know that, very often, it’s not really the relationship with the customer you are focused on. Everything you do is tightly controlled and monitored by the company - for example you are not allowed to spend too long talking to each customer. The employees might think customer satisfaction is important but they are not allowed to think for themselves."

Professor Fevre added that Wales and London appear to be at two extremes for the type of jobs they can offer. "Wales has more of those jobs where you judge how well you are doing by what the manager says. London has more of the kind of jobs where you judge how well you do by what clients and customers say and managers only feature indirectly. If clients and customers say you are doing OK then your manager thinks you are doing OK. This means there is less opportunity for the kind of ill-treatment our work has uncovered."

The book also reveals that public sector workers are more likely to suffer ill-treatment, including violence, from the people they are meant to serve, but also from their colleagues and managers. They are more at risk than private sector workers as they are more likely to experience the factors that lead to ill-treatment, such as losing control over their jobs, work-intensification and a pace of work they cannot keep up with. The authors predict the situation is likely to get worse as more pressure is put on costs and the public sector shrinks.

Co-author of the book Professor Duncan Lewis of Plymouth Business School, hopes much can be learnt from these findings. "We wrote this book not only because we wanted our research to reach audiences other than academics, but also because the study took four years to complete. Work of this kind can be incredibly detailed and in order to explain how leaders, managers, trade unions and employees can benefit from it, we were keen to write the whole story of the study and put it in one place.

"Trouble at work affects many of us in one way or another and this book helps our understanding of what we might do about it."