Not just about the money: Pioneering study reveals the best and worst jobs in the UK | Work & careers
If you are looking for happiness, try to be captain of a ship or tile walls to earn a living. But choose to be a judge, housing officer, or theme park keeper, and prepare for some misery.
Groundbreaking research into the ‘full earnings’ of UK employees, which tries to take into account well-being as well as cash income, has revealed the jobs where the reality of the working day compromises the benefit of pay and those which offer the greatest rewards in addition to salary. .
The study, conducted by leading academics from the London and Paris schools of economics, suggests that the best jobs are marked by autonomy and provide the satisfaction of completing tasks, while the worst include roles where workers are beset by the problems of others – be it customer service, administrators or welfare officers.
He also argues that if well-being is taken into account, income inequality in the UK – already the worst in Western Europe – is a third wider than previously believed, creating a hidden “real income” gap.
“The people who get the worst out of this widening gap are usually women and ethnic minorities and the winners are usually white men,” said Andrew Clark, a professor at the Paris School of Economics.
The study was co-authored by Maria Cotofan and Professor Richard Layard, the Labor peer who pioneered ‘happiness economics’ and is co-editor of the world happiness reportwhich ranks the UK as the 24th happiest country in terms of average life satisfaction.
Academics monitoring well-being in Europe and the United States are increasingly concerned that conventional economic measures – such as gross domestic product (GDP) – underestimate the extent of social divisions, which in turn threaten political stability. They note that anti-government protests have increased in recent years in the UK, US, France, Italy and Spain, and analysis has shown that voters’ feelings about their income were a a much better predictor of whether they voted for or against Brexit than real income.
At the top of the “full pay” table are chief executives and elected representatives such as MPs. Construction and building trades supervisors, plasterers, floor setters, tile setters and decorators are also near the top in life satisfaction, despite earning less cash. Pilots, flight engineers, and ship and hovercraft officers join sports trainers and fitness instructors among other high earners when welfare is considered.
Jobs where lack of happiness drives down full earnings include call center workers, lawyers, IT support workers, local government administrators and hospital porters, kitchen helpers, bar staff, waiters and theme park attendants.
“Occupation is one of the most important decisions individuals make,” the study concludes.
Clark said workers who have autonomy, managerial roles, mastery of a skill or who work in the public service tend to have higher full incomes.
“Working in health and education brings a kind of reward in terms of doing well,” he said. “Sales and customer service are terrible. There must be very little intrinsic reward in selling stuff.
The study used data from the ONS’s annual population survey from 2014 to 2018 of full-time employees aged 18 to 65 – a sample of 210,000 people. These individuals were asked to rate their “life satisfaction” on a scale of 0 to 10, ranging from “not at all satisfied” to “completely satisfied.” Earnings were measured as actual hourly earnings and each person was assigned one of 90 different occupational categories.
“Some low-paying occupations such as customer service, salespeople, and low-skilled laborers also have the worst non-pecuniary aspects, resulting in full earnings that are lower than actual earnings,” the researchers found. “Some elementary workers in construction and agriculture have higher full incomes once the value of amenities is taken into account.” This last finding may suggest the benefits of working outdoors.
The results suggest that satisfaction is also gained by seeing a finished job, which decorators and tile setters regularly appreciate. Their fellow construction workers, steel erectors, masons and carpenters had lower full incomes. They also suggest the negative impact of largely reactive jobs like call center operators and kitchen porters.
People with a degree had higher full earnings than those with only A level, GCSE or lower qualifications. Average life satisfaction also varies less for the most educated, reflecting greater inequality in well-being for the less educated.
Ways to reduce hard cash inequality include taxation and raising the minimum wage, while stronger unions could contribute to broader well-being if they succeed in improving working conditions in general. , said Clark.
Three people share what they get out of their jobs
Cruise ship captain: ‘The deck will turn orange and red with the sun’
“Sitting on deck on days at sea is breathtaking,” said Robert Camby, captain of P&O who has spent 27 years in the cruise ship business and is set to lead the Arvia, a new giant of 5,500 passengers sailing in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. “You will have turquoise waters, crystal clear blue skies. We sometimes head straight for sunset and the bridge will turn orange and red with the sun.
Being the ship’s captain was like “boys with their toys”, he said – although he pointed out that there were also female captains. “We also work with an extremely diverse team. We have 50 nationalities and we are learning to understand so many cultures”.
The position is also that of general manager of the ship, with its theatres, spas, galleys, engine rooms and 1,800 crew members. For passengers, the Captain is something of a celebrity, making appearances opening shops and events. “It’s like walking around your own town and you’re the mayor,” he said.
The main challenge is the weather and he recently had to escape a nine meter swell caused by Storm Eunice. “It was pretty awful in terms of the wind,” he said, but he got the ship safely back to Southampton.
Overall, he says, the work was “extremely rewarding.”
Decorator: “I really like finishing properties”
Hanging £600 a roll wallpaper in the homes of footballers and old-fashioned millionaires can be a stressful business; any mistake can cost a small fortune. But the satisfaction of a job well done is enormous, says Adam Bown, 38. He runs Divine Decorators of Cheshire, which puts the finishing touches on million-pound renovations to homes in the county’s wealthy ‘golden triangle’.
“Room makeover is a really satisfying part of the job,” he said, adding that he understands why decorators rank so high in wellness rankings. “Much of what we do is visible. Nobody really appreciates a boiler on the wall, but they will appreciate a nice wallpaper.
Bown painted and decorated footballers like David Beckham and Sergio Agüero. He said: “I really like finishing properties. It’s a bargain to be in; not too physical, but enough to keep in shape. It’s quite meticulous work and I really like having a good relationship with my clients.
Kitchen porter: “My family is my main concern”
Emptying overflowing bins was the worst part of 25-year-old Keilon Richardson’s job when he worked as a kitchen porter at the Fat Duck. He worked 11-hour shifts, washing dishes, compacting boxes and cleaning at Heston Blumenthal’s three-star Michelin restaurant in Bray.
Despite being one of the most thankless jobs in catering – George Orwell described kitchen porters as “slaves of the modern world” – Richardson was not unhappy even when confronted with the pan the most encrusted that a chef had “really messed up”.
“I was never afraid to go to work,” he said. “As long as the amount of work was reasonable, I focused on the people around me.” He loved getting recipes from the chefs — pastas and marinades for the ribs, rather than the famous restaurant specialties like snail porridge — and trying them out to his family back home.
“Work is a necessary process,” he said. “My family is my main concern. Every job I take, I take it with them in mind.
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