7 portraits of modern work in the UK

Employment may have reached a record high last year, but workers aren’t necessarily more secure.

RSA Reports


By Brhmie Balaram and Fabian Wallace-Stephens

For full references please download the full report: Thriving, striving, or just about surviving? Seven portraits of economic security and modern work in the UK

As we usher in a new year, our optimism for 2018 is tempered by concern for workers in the UK. Employment may have reached a record high last year, but workers aren’t necessarily more secure. If anything, wider economic trends would suggest that workers are worse off as real wages fall and in-work poverty rises. Growth forecasts have been repeatedly revised down, and productivity remains low. Little progress has been made to resolve a lack of social mobility or persistent income inequality. The pay of black and minority ethnic (BME) workers and women still lags behind that of their white, male counterparts, and those who are unemployed are routinely denied support as the welfare state increasingly operates on the basis of targeting and conditionality.

Moreover, of the jobs that have been created, many are atypical in nature, meaning that workers have been shifting from full-time, permanent employment to zero-hour or temporary contracts, and are increasingly taking up self-employment or gig work. There are now nearly a million people on zero-hour contracts and 1.7 million are in temporary work; a record 4.8 million are in self-employment, while there an estimated 1.1 million people in Britain’s gig economy, which — in a mere five years — is around as many workers as in the National Health Service (NHS) England.

This rise in atypical work has been followed by fears that the labour market is fragmenting into low paying, poorly protected jobs. The more flexible the workforce becomes, the more insecure workers appear to be, which has prompted questions about whether workers’ interests are still being safeguarded under the law. In response to this unease, the government appointed Matthew Taylor to carry out a review of modern working practices. The Taylor Review was published in July 2017 and the government will soon set out how it intends to act on the Review’s recommendations.

The review sought to achieve more than the reform of labour law for atypical workers. Its ultimate conclusion — that, as a society, we should strive for all work to be good work — is relevant to workers across the labour market, no matter the job. Good work is described as work that is fair and decent, with realistic scope for development and fulfilment. It is, in essence, capturing the two most important considerations for many people when pursuing a job — the offer of economic security as well as a rewarding experience. This RSA report expands on these dimensions of good work, theoretically as well as practically.

We commissioned a survey in partnership with Populus to get a wider sense of experiences of economic security, which we define as ‘the degree of confidence that a person can have in maintaining a decent quality of life, now and in future, given their economic and financial circumstances.’ For a third (or even as much as 40 percent) of our sample, this degree of confidence can be low; for a significant minority, their insecurity is extreme — these workers are precarious. In our segmentation of the labour market, we discovered that in addition to experienced insecurity, there was hidden insecurity; for example, some workers are in steady jobs, but have little to no savings and wouldn’t be able to tide themselves over in the event of a financial shock.

Our survey and segmentation also reveal that experiences of work are highly variable. On the whole, most workers in the UK feel positively about their experiences on the job and would work even if they didn’t need the money. A majority (71 percent) of workers find their job interesting, 70 percent of workers believe their job makes good use of their skills, and 64 percent are satisfied with the sense of achievement from work. However, some workers are also really struggling. These workers may not feel like they are adequately supported or protected in their jobs, they lack autonomy or a sense of freedom and control in work, and they feel so stressed and unfulfilled by their jobs that they report being unhappy.

While we are encouraged by the enthusiasm for good work among businesses, trade unions and government, there are still great challenges ahead. We are not convinced that traditional ‘objective’ measures of security, such as contract type or employment status, are sufficient, nor do they reflect the scale of these challenges. To understand the modern experience of work — and how we can improve it — a wider lens is needed and we have endeavoured to provide that here.

In an attempt to understand the state of good work in the modern labour market, the RSA partnered with Populus to construct a segmentation, using the data from our RSA/Populus survey.

A segmentation is a way of grouping respondents based on the similarity of their characteristics and attitudes, as measured by survey responses. Within the context of our research, the segmentation helped us identify patterns in experiences of economic security and work, which are ultimately expressed as the seven portraits of the modern workforce presented here.

To bring these portraits to life, we’ve included case studies, compiled from supplementary interviews we conducted with workers who participated in our survey.

For more details on how we constructed our segmentation please download the full report: Thriving, striving, or just about surviving? Seven portraits of economic security and modern work in the UK

The Chronically Precarious

Economic security

The chronically precarious are in one of the worst positions financially. Two-thirds earn less than £21,000 and around a quarter (22 percent) earn less than the taxable threshold (£11,500). Only 16 percent report they are paid enough to make ends meet, while a mere 11 percent feel fairly paid. However, they are certain about when they work, so unlike the erratically precarious they do not struggle with income volatility.

Most (60 percent) have less than £1,000 in savings; nearly a third (29 percent) have no savings at all. Many (39 percent) are concerned about debt and these workers typically cannot depend on others in their household. When asked about whether they are able to make ends meet each month, many (58 percent) report that they are ‘just about managing’ or unable to.

Work experience

Job security is a problem for the chronically precarious. Only 29 percent report feeling secure in their jobs. Nearly half feel that their job has become less secure in the last five years, citing technology as the cause. They may be on typical employment contracts that are full-time and/or permanent in nature, but are still anxious about whether they will be able to count on their job given other factors.

The chronically precarious have low autonomy. Many feel excessively monitored in the workplace (55 percent vs 24 percent of all workers), while also being locked out of decisions that affect how they work. They typically do not have not access to flexible working arrangements; only a third — 34 percent — are able to work flexibly compared to 57 percent of all workers. Most (73 percent) find their work stressful and many feel unhappy or depressed.

Twice as many of the chronically precarious are worried about being treated unfairly (63 percent), and a majority (85 percent) feel unsupported by HR. They are less likely than other segments to feel respected by their colleagues, and among the most concerned about being discriminated against (37 percent vs 15 percent of all workers).

The chronically precarious have relatively poor scope for progression — a mere 27 percent reported they have good opportunities to progress or that they have already progressed within the last five years (in contrast with 44 percent of all workers). At present, they do not find their work as fulfilling as other workers, but 59 percent do feel that their job makes a positive contribution.

Generally, while the chronically precarious value the same traits of work as the other segments, they are unlikely to find these traits in their work. More than half are considering a career change.


The chronically precarious are a younger segment — 41 percent are under the age of 35. Relative to other segments of the workforce, they have low educational attainment. Sixty-one percent are school leavers. Many work in customer or personal service roles. Although the majority (88 percent) are in typical employment contracts and are certain about when they will be working, they are more likely than other workers to want more hours (17 percent vs 12 percent). They are the most concerned about automation, viewing it as a threat.

Black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups are over-represented in this low-income segment.

Portrait of a Chronically Precarious Worker — Kafui, 34

Kafui works for a clothing and jewellery store in one of London’s busy train stations. She has been a sales associate at the store for the past six years, but has been working in retail for much longer. While studying for a degree in pharmaceutical science, Kafui first held a job as a Carer, but turned to retail in the hopes that it would be easier to balance with school. When she graduated in 2009, the UK was in a recession and she found it especially difficult to find a job in her field because of her immigration status. Under the system, companies prioritised natives, and then EU migrants, so the odds were not in her favour. Next year, she will be entitled to indefinite leave to remain (IRL), and she is considering pursuing a Master’s degree so that she can revive employment prospects in the pharmaceutical industry.

Kafui is on a permanent contract, and is paid an hourly wage of £8.30. There are no bonuses or commissions for sales, and staff are expected to regularly purchase discounted clothing to wear to work in an attempt to attract customers. “The pay is difficult. For what we do, they can pay us more than that.”

Kafui has been working part-time for a number of years, so that she could continue searching for other work and, in recent years, care for her two young children. She was offered a management position, but turned it down to maintain flexibility. After the birth of her second child five months ago, she reduced her hours to an average of 12 per week, but has struggled with some volatility in her income.

“Sometimes they call you when you cannot work, like when I’m looking after my kids. Sometimes if you say you are not supposed to do it, then they say they won’t give you extra work shifts and that they’ll give it to someone else. It’s stressful when you’re not getting the pay you expected to because you aren’t getting the hours.”

Sometimes Kafui wonders how she will be able to pay her bills. Her partner is self-employed and is running a catering business that also has its ups and downs. “At the moment, I don’t think I can turn to someone for help [with financial hardship].” She finds the cost of living, and particularly housing, to be expensive, but for now they’re finding ways of managing.

Key insights

There are two groups of precarious workers. This first group is employed on typical contracts, and thus have certainty of hours. However, they still worry about job security because of wider trends in the labour market; in particular, they are concerned about the pace of technology and the possibility of their job succumbing to automation. This is not a concern that can be easily allayed — we are already seeing the first attempts to automate jobs in driving, manufacturing and retail with the introduction of self-driving cars, 3D printing technology in factories, and cashier-free stores like Amazon’s Go that will only require between three to 10 employees to run.

Moreover, for workers who still have a job, there are reports of low autonomy and excessive monitoring, which could worsen with the rise of algorithmic and data-driven management.Dr. Phoebe Moore and Andrew Robinson note that the increasing use of ‘quantified self technologies’, such as wearables that enable the tracking of individuals, may cause harm to workers through sustained pressure to be productive at all times. Amazon, for example, has recently developed wristbands for their warehouse workers that would help managers monitor their performance and give instant feedback. In addition to lacking autonomy over how they undertake their tasks, the chronically precarious are denied flexibility over when they are start and finish work.

In general, progression among low-paid workers is rather limited — there is evidence from the Social Mobility Commission that only 17 percent of low-paid workers have gone on to get better pay. This means that one in four workers are “permanently stuck” in poorly paid jobs, with little chance of earning higher salaries. Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) suggests that workers are sometimes averse to progressing because they perceive that they’ll have even less flexibility with seniority. In some cases, they found that workers were “actively afraid” of progression; for example, in the private care sector, workers believed that greater responsibility would simply mean more stress and scrutiny for little additional pay.

The Commission revealed that low pay in the UK was especially endemic among women in their early 20s who juggle work with childcare responsibilities. In our segmentation, we found that black and minority ethic (BAME) groups are over-represented, which may in part explain why this group expressed more apprehension about being treated unfairly in the workplace. According to the TUC, more than a third of BAME workers have been subjected to racism, including bullying, abuse, or being singled out for unfair treatment; almost a fifth of BAME workers said they had been passed over for training or a promotion.

The costs of childcare and housing are particular concerns for this segment, especially given that both costs are rising much faster than wages. They may have access to some level of welfare (ie working tax credits), but it is unlikely that this is enough to offset the high costs of living; moreover, this sort of state support does not afford them the opportunity to disrupt their chronic condition of precarity.

The Acutely Precarious

Economic situation

The acutely precarious are among those with the lowest income and savings, and are struggling to make ends meet. Most earn far below the median income of £23,000 per year; 58 percent earn less than £21,000 and 31 percent earn less than the tax free personal allowance (£11,500). A significant number (69 percent) of the acutely precarious have less than £1,000 in savings and many (35 percent) have no savings at all.

In contrast with the rest of the workforce, they are much more concerned about debt (74 percent vs 29 percent of all workers). The acutely precarious are the most likely to experience difficulties managing their finances due to a volatile income (71 percent vs 19 percent). While some (44 percent) feel they have others in their household who they can turn to for financial support, on the whole they find their economic circumstances challenging; when asked about how they manage to make ends meet each month, 74 percent of the acutely precarious report that they are just about managing, or unable to.

Work experience

The acutely precarious do not feel secure in their jobs — 44 percent agree that it is highly likely that they will experience a period of unemployment in the next two years (compared with 19 percent of all workers). Many (45 percent) feel less secure than they did five years ago, and some feel like technology is responsible for this deterioration in security.

The acutely precarious have some autonomy in work, but not to the extent that flexi-workers or high-flyers do. Specifically, they have autonomy over working hours. Some (47 percent) have control over when they start or finish work and are able to arrange their schedule to fit work around caring responsibilities. However, when it comes to autonomy over tasks, they lack the freedom to complete work as they see fit. A third (35 percent) report feeling excessively monitored and less than half feel involved in decision-making that affects the way that they work. Many also feel like their autonomy is dwindling, reflecting that they have less autonomy in work than they did five years ago, again largely because of new technology.

On the whole the acutely precarious do not find their work particularly fulfilling, and some struggle with wellbeing and work-life balance. They are also more likely to be concerned about being treated unfairly or discriminated against than most other segments.

More than half wish to change professions. Fortunately, they are relatively optimistic about progressing their careers. Unlike the chronically precarious there are indications, such as the number of degrees held, that many will be able to move up in their careers and into other segments of the workforce.


The acutely precarious are a young segment; 46 percent are under the age of 35. A considerable number are highly educated — 45 percent hold university degrees. Nearly half have dependent children, who are typically younger than 10 years old. They are more likely to rent than the other segments (44 percent vs 33 percent) and few own their homes outright (13 percent). The acutely precarious are the most likely to be black and minority ethic (BAME).

A relatively high share work in low skilled sectors such as retail, hospitality and transport and storage, highlighting these areas of the economy as hotspots for poor workplace practices. Many are in atypical forms of employment or have unpredictable working patterns. They have the highest levels of underemployment; 24 percent want to work more hours in their current job, and 17 percent are looking for an additional job. Compared to other segments, they are more likely to be concerned about significant political and economic trends such as Brexit and automation.

Portrait of the Acutely Precarious — Polly, 23

As a care worker, Polly rises early to make it to her first call at 7am. She helps clients wash, dress and take their medication in the mornings and then squeezes in some paperwork before heading home for a break at noon. She eats her dinner and then returns for a second shift from 4pm to 10pm, although she’ll often clock out later. She has been in the job for a year and a half and feels passionate about the work.

“What I like most about my job is helping people to get better… the clients and the carers are all like a family. We try to support each other whenever we can; we know it’s a difficult job.”

Polly is recognised for doing her job well; she has been asked to train new recruits and has been given the opportunity to undertake a paid NVQ in health and social care. However, when asked if she plans to progress, Polly responded, “I don’t see myself staying for long enough to want a promotion. We are under-staffed and underpaid.” She is on a minimum wage and is the sole breadwinner; her partner is waiting for a disability living allowance, but is unsure if it will be granted, so they rely on her income to make a living.

While Polly enjoys caring for her clients, there are a number of aspects of her job that she finds stressful. “It’s emotionally difficult seeing people you love getting worse and worse and eventually die.” The organisational culture and management further strain what is already a trying job. Polly has had a new supervisor every three months during the year and a half she has been with the company.

“The supervisors don’t know the area or where things are. They don’t really know us, or clients, and don’t communicate or know how to communicate properly with us.”

One consequence of this is that she will be scheduled for calls that are spread out over a great distance, forcing her to travel for longer and without adequate compensation. She explains,

“I work 40 hours [with travel time], but I don’t get paid for travel time — I get paid for the 25 hours I am with clients. Travel time between calls doesn’t get counted.”

When Polly is at work, she is required to complete her calls, and thus her tasks, within a certain amount of time. She finds that the time constraints are unrealistic, however, and often finishes late. There isn’t enough support from management, nor respect for her time. “They’ll call you when you’re not available [for work]. I’ll get calls at 6am on my day off. I feel like I have to accept because they’ll plead 20 times and won’t let you off the phone… I’ve cancelled doctor’s appointments because I have been guilted into going into work.” Polly has been injured at work while lifting clients, and is still recovering from a damaged nerve.

Polly is not concerned about job security because the company cannot afford to let anyone go. Yet, job security does not mean economic security for Polly. “To be economically secure means to have enough hours to pay rent while not having to physically injure myself attempting to do that.” For now, Polly is managing to survive in her job, but hopes to change careers once she completes her NVQ.

Key insights

This second group of precarious workers are usually the ones who make headlines — many are in atypical work (for example, in low-skilled gig work or on zero-hour contracts) and find the lack of job security to be difficult. Their experience of work fits the archetype of what we understand to be precarious (ie variable hours, volatile earnings, uncertainty about their job status) or they may be referred to as belonging to the ‘precariat’.

While the chronically precarious experience the condition of precarity on an ongoing basis, the acutely precarious feel a sense of precarity more intensely in periods when their work is drying up or they’re allocated fewer hours; when the work and hours are flowing, the sense of precarity may temporarily ebb away or feel less severe. We are distinguishing the chronically precarious and the acutely precarious by how they experience the state of precarity; either work is a consistent point of pain or leads to sharp pangs of distress depending on whether workers are constantly teetering on the edge of poverty or crossing back and forth between that threshold without any certainty of how long they will be able to remain on the side of better times.

They may benefit from greater flexibility, but some of these workers still struggle with the level of autonomy they have, or to make ends meet on the hours they are able to work. As we know from RSA research, while most gig workers find that they have more freedom and control, over a third (37 percent) do not agree. Likewise, the ONS has determined that of the 883,000 people currently on zero-hour contracts, about a quarter (27 percent) want to work more hours. These workers tend to be much more dependent on this kind of work than their more satisfied peers.

Of significance is that these workers, unlike most ‘flexi-workers’ (a segment that similarly values, and pursues, flexibility), are less likely to be able to turn to others in their household for financial support.

While they are more optimistic about being able to progress, they will likely have to change professions in order to advance their careers. As the OECD notes, those in atypical work are among the least likely to be trained up as there is little incentive for companies to invest in their short-term and temporary workforce. This is especially true for the acutely precarious in low-skilled work, although there may be some exceptions in sectors desperately trying to stave off a skills shortage, such as the social care sector.

Given how young and highly-educated this segment is, for many, this kind of work is likely to be a stop-gap in their careers as they try to transition into their ideal professions.

The Flexi-workers

Economic situation

Flexi-workers are among those with the lowest incomes, but they are fairly economically secure with decent savings. Only one in five workers earn more than £28,000 per annum. More than half (59 percent) earn less than £21,000 per annum, and over a third (34 percent) earn less than the tax free personal allowance (£11,500). However, many (64 percent) have more than £5,000 in savings, and 43 percent hold more than £10,000. With the exception of a small minority (8 percent), few are concerned about debt. When asked about whether they manage to make ends meet each month, 70 percent reported that they are able to do so comfortably in contrast with 60 percent of all workers.

Many flexi-workers (61 percent) are able to depend on others in their household. They are the least likely of all workers to have children to support (79 percent do not have any children under the age of 18). They are nearly twice as likely to own their home outright (47 percent vs 24 percent). Although they have the least predictable hours of all segments, only 19 percent have any trouble maintaining a decent standard of living due to a variable income. This is likely to be because their wider household or financial circumstances provide a buffer against financial shocks.

Work experience

Flexi-workers are in jobs that extend them autonomy and the opportunity for fulfilment. Most have freedom and control over what they do on a day-to-day basis (69 percent vs 57 percent of all workers) and when they work (59 percent vs 41 percent). They feel involved in or oversee decisions that affect their work (72 percent vs 55 percent of all workers).

Flexi-workers are the most likely of all workers to feel satisfied with their sense of achievement. Most find their work interesting, and believe that it makes good use of their knowledge and skills. Many also feel that their work provides their life with meaning and purpose (61 percent), makes a positive contribution to society (63 percent), and gives them opportunities to be creative (59 percent).

In terms of wellbeing at work, flexi-workers have few issues. In general, they enjoy a good work-life balance — most (76 percent) have access to flexible working (76 percent vs 57 percent of all workers) and can fit work around their caring responsibilities (77 percent vs 62 percent). On the other hand, few feel secure in their job (38 percent vs 60 percent of all workers) or protected by employment rights (21 percent vs 43 percent). This is more likely to be attributed to the nature of their work rather than poor workplace relations. Of those in workplaces, most feel fairly treated by their manager (78 percent vs 68 percent) and respected by their colleagues (83 percent vs 75 percent).

Progression is also a challenge that flexi-workers face. They are less likely to feel that they good scope for progression in their career (29 percent vs 40 percent of all workers), or have received a pay increase in the last five years (44 percent vs 59 percent). Some are worried that future changes to their job will reduce their pay (44 percent vs 28 percent).

Despite having a high share of atypical workers, this segment has relatively low levels of underemployment. When directly compared with the acutely precarious segment, which also has a high number of atypical workers, flexi-workers were less likely to report that they wanted to work more hours in their current job (11 percent vs 24 percent of the acutely precarious). This suggests that they are more likely to prefer these working patterns to those typical of full-time, nine-to-five employment.

Moreover, there are signs that they don’t appear to be seeking out the job security associated with typical employment — unlike other segments, flexi-workers value autonomy and flexibility more than job security. Most are committed to this way of working (only 14 percent are interested in a career change).


Flexi-workers tend to be older. They are often self-employed or in other forms of atypical work. For example, they may be in gig, agency, or part-time work, or on fixed-term temporary or zero-hour contracts. For many, their economic circumstances enable them to take on work that pays less, but which they find more rewarding.

Portrait of a Flexi-worker — Martin, 44

Martin left his job in the public sector around three and a half years ago to start his own business as a self-employed photographer. Reflecting on his change of career, Martin shared,

“I was tired of the bureaucracy… I needed to escape and become my own boss. I wanted to be creative. I wanted better job satisfaction.”

Another major draw for Martin was the flexible nature of the job. “I love the aspect of being able to work flexibly, you can structure your day the way you want to.” Martin’s hours can vary wildly; some weeks he will put in 10 or 15 hours, other weeks between 65 and 70. “It depends on the weather, or the season; it’s not set in stone… I go with the flow.”

While Martin enjoys the autonomy he has in deciding when and how he works, he feels like the up and down nature of his business means that he is “just about treading water”. While some months are steady, he hasn’t been able to count on it remaining that way.

“Small businesses always have that financial worry. We have to earn a certain amount of money in our jobs in order to survive.”

Fortunately for Martin, if he is a tight spot he can turn to his partner, who is in a relatively secure job. He is also supplementing his income through bits and pieces, including submitting stock photography and selling through e-Bay. That said, when Martin was first starting out on his own, he and his partner suffered the loss of their first baby soon after childbirth, which made him more aware of the safety net he had given up when he transitioned away from being an employee. There was no paid parental or compassionate leave and he couldn’t afford to take time out, so he returned to work shortly after.

Martin acknowledges that there may be some day-to-day interactions with colleagues that can be fun and that he may be missing out on, but he is comfortable with the solitude of his work. He has also become a part of a network of local business owners in his hometown that meets biweekly and offers him another route to connection. “It’s a way of sharing skills and understanding.”

Reflecting on where he is in his journey, Martin concluded, “At the moment, I’m happy.”

Key insights

This group is mainly found in atypical work, including in highly-skilled gig work as well as in other forms of self-employment (ie owners of microbusinesses); however, unlike the acutely precarious, they enjoy their experience of this work.

As an RSA/Populus survey found, 84 percent of respondents agreed that being self-employed meant that they were more content in their working lives. This may in part be because the self-employed are more likely to favour ‘softer’ benefits, such as greater meaning and freedom in work, over ‘harder’ attributes, such as a high income. Of those polled in the survey, 82 percent said that the work that they do is more meaningful than that found in a typical job, and 87 percent reported that they have more freedom to do the things they want. On average, the full-time self-employed earn £166 a week less than their employed counterparts, but many are willing to endure this sacrifice because of these ‘softer’ gains.

Many gig workers are likely to identify with the self-employed freelancers and micro-business owners surveyed by the RSA/Populus. As the RSA’s research on gig work revealed, the majority (59 percent) of gig workers are providing highly-skilled services that are of a professional, creative, and administrative nature; these services are likely to be similar to those associated with the aforementioned self-employed. For example, they may be offering consultancy, legal advice, or accountancy services through websites or apps such as Upwork, or sourcing writing, graphic design, or web development gigs through a platform like Fiverr. What these workers have in common is that they find their jobs more meaningful and have greater autonomy than they believe they would (or have experienced) in traditional employment.

However, while there is much to laud, flexi-workers also have their difficulties. In particular, they lack job security and employment protections and benefits, such as holiday pay, sick pay, and an employee pension. These workers may also find it challenging to invest in their skills themselves because of their relatively low levels of pay and the ‘on-demand’ or ‘on-call’ nature of the work, which could mean that they lack the resources or the time for further training and education.

The Steady Staters

Economic situation

Steady staters have average incomes, which rarely fluctuate. Most are comfortable with their pay packets; however, they don’t typically have much in savings. More than half have less than £1,000 saved and over a third are concerned about debt. Some (39 percent) have young children (typically between the ages of 5–15), and few are able to depend on others in their household to support them financially.

While most (64 percent) report being able to make ends meet with ease, their economic security is highly dependent on their income from work; this may in part be why they value job security so strongly. If their steady state was disrupted, it is not clear how easily they would be able to manage the transition.

Work experience

The majority (77 percent) of steady staters feel secure in their job. Their working patterns are highly predictable, and they are unlikely to work excessive hours or have difficulties fulfilling their commitments outside of work. They enjoy good wellbeing at work as well as a decent work-life balance.

Steady staters are engaged employees who are likely to share the values of their organisation (74 percent vs 59 percent of all workers). They feel supported by HR and respected by their colleagues. They are the most likely to be satisfied with their training and many feel that they have made progress in their careers in the last five years.

Steady staters are very likely to find their work interesting (80 percent) and are satisfied with their sense of achievement (73 percent), but unlike idealists they do not feel like work is a strong part of their identity. This may be because they are less likely to feel that their work makes a positive contribution to society, or that it provides their life with meaning and purpose. However, above all else they value job security (more than any other segment) and are content in their careers as they are.


Steady staters can be found in a mix of sectors and occupations (notably, in manufacturing and in government), but a relatively high share identify as office workers (35 percent).

Portrait of a Steady Stater — Kathryn, 35

Kathryn has been working in local government for the past 19 years. Over this period, she has held three different jobs in the same department, and is currently working in a full-time, 9–5 role as a Debt Management Officer. She entered local government through a training scheme when she was 16 years old, and while she did return to her studies to complete a degree in English and History, she remained committed to her job at the council. Most colleagues at her level in the department similarly joined at 16 and stayed on.

Kathryn’s job on a day-to-day basis involves making calls to follow up with local residents who are in arrears to work out a way of collecting the council tax owed. While these calls are routine, every day feels different because her interactions with residents will vary. Kathryn regularly feels a sense of accomplishment, especially when she is able to make contact with residents that have been difficult to reach and to support them onto repayment plans. “I definitely feel my job is worthwhile.”

Kathryn enjoys the flexibility her current position affords her. She is able to work at home most days, sparing her a commute and the noise of the office. Earlier this year, she turned down a promotion because it required coming into the office to supervise staff, which would mean that homeworking would no longer be an option.

“Progression in the job has become less important to me over time… my priorities in life have changed, really. I value flexibility and my current role provides a better home life option.”

Although Kathryn works at home, the work she is doing is carefully tracked.

“The supervisors monitor how many calls and customers the workers address per day. Everything you look at is recorded… If you looked at 21 customer records yesterday and only five today, your supervisor will ring you up to ask why.”

If Kathryn isn’t meeting her targets, she’ll have to go back into the office, but she feels her targets are reasonable.

Working in the public sector has meant that Kathryn has not had a pay rise in five years. While she finds this challenging, she considered the money to be “alright” and was grateful to be in a secure position. “It’s difficult to not get a pay rise, but just got to think at least I have a job.” Knowing that she can count on having a job for a long time is very important to Kathryn. “When I took this job, I knew the job would be around for a while.”

Key insights

Steady staters may appear to be in a relatively secure position because they are in long-term jobs with typical contracts and are satisfied in their work. Yet, they have few savings — more than half have less than £1,000 saved, and some (37 percent) are concerned about debt. This may constrain their prospects in terms of home ownership or planned retirement; for example, millions of workers in their 50s have been forced to postpone their retirement by eight years due to a lack of pension savings and high levels of debt.

The Money Advice Service notes that a good rule of thumb is to have three months’ essential outgoings available in savings that can be easily accessed in case of an emergency. Those who are unable to set aside the recommended amount for a ‘rainy day’ (for example, an unexpected home or car repair) risk accumulating debt, particularly if they fall prey to payday loan companies. In its largest ever survey of households, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) found that half of adults (26.5 million people) display one or more characteristics that signal potential vulnerability to financial harm. Young people between the ages of 25–34 are particularly at risk; 19 percent have no savings, and a further 30 percent have less than £1,000 saved. The survey also found that 36 percent had overdrawn in the last 12 months, and 37 percent had taken out payday loans.

Steady staters are among the most vulnerable to economic shock. They are highly dependent on work to maintain a living, and it is not clear how they would cope if they were to be displaced from their jobs. Although they may be satisfied with their work, some appear to have stalled in their careers and are sometimes overly complacent in their circumstances. Wider trends would suggest that this middle segment of the workforce is likely to be reshaped; for example, jobs are currently being shed in office and administrative support (ie in bookkeeping and clerical accounting) and in production (ie machine operating), but are being created in providing personal support (ie in healthcare) and working in artisanal trades. To understand the possible trajectory of steady staters, we need a broader picture of the economy as a whole.

The Idealists

Economic situation

Idealists are fairly economically secure. While their incomes are not particularly high, the majority (78 percent) report that they are comfortably making ends meet each month. Their income is steady and they feel fairly compensated. Most have some savings and are unconcerned about debt. Of all segments they are also the most likely to be able to depend on others in their household to support them financially (66 percent vs 36 percent of all workers).

Experience of work

Idealists are highly engaged in their organisation and find their work fulfilling. They typically find their jobs interesting, have opportunities to use their skills, and are satisfied with their sense of achievement. Most are proud to tell people who they work for and share the values of their organisation. They are the most likely to feel that they make a positive contribution to society.

Idealists are also the most likely to feel secure in their job (87 percent vs 60 percent of all workers). They feel supported by HR and treated fairly by their managers.

Most have typical employment contracts and predictable working hours. However, this way of working does not offer them much flexibility relative to other segments. Few have freedom and control over when they start and finish work and they are also less likely than other segments to have access to flexible working arrangements. However, this lack of flexibility does not appear to affect their wellbeing — idealists are the least likely to be stressed of all workers. When it comes to autonomy over tasks, they are in line with the workforce average.

Idealists are clearly driven, and many may be in a transitional phase in their careers. Unlike other segments which may have reached a plateau, we would expect idealists to continue on an upward trajectory given their age and optimism about the future. Most (73 percent) idealists expect to receive a pay rise in the next five years (compared with 59 percent of all workers). While they are not particularly likely to express an interest in changing careers, many (54 percent) are open to working for themselves in the future. It may be that they have one eye on a future where work offers them a greater degree of flexibility.


Idealists are a young segment — half are under the age of 35. Most (72 percent) are married or cohabiting, and many have young children. Nearly a third (29 percent) can be found working in education or health.

Portrait of an Idealist — Sarah, 32

Sarah works in an administrative and communications role at a university, coordinating a project on global health. She feels motivated by how meaningful her work has been and finds it fulfilling. “I’m very passionate about it… it’s really important to work in a job that means something to me.” For Sarah, her work is an extension of who she is. “It is a big part of my identity. I feel quite proud when I explain what I do.”

Sarah feels like she has good relationships with her colleagues and line manager, and works in a supportive organisation.

“The university does seem to be aware of [workers’] wellbeing and trying to make others aware of it, in order to support them in improving it.”

In her current job, Sarah does not experience much stress, but she wasn’t always so lucky. In a previous job, she was so stressed she experienced severe depression and had to take three months off before ultimately deciding to leave.

Reflecting on the differences between her experiences of work, Sarah explained that having more autonomy in this job has improved her wellbeing in work.

“Looking back, it did make me feel quite depressed to have someone watching me on a detailed level and even what time I went home. I respond much better to a little bit more freedom in my hours and the way that I do things… [In this job], no one is sitting over us noting what time we arrive and leave work. The attitude is that I can come in and get the job done and leave again.”

Remarkably, job security was once a source of anxiety for Sarah.

“Because of the nature of my [previous] job, the security of the contract didn’t bring me comfort like it does in my current role — it brought stress.”

Sarah was similarly committed to a project for five years, which she felt pressure to see through, but now that Sarah is in a job she enjoys she hopes she can stay on for longer. She is only guaranteed another two years, but feels more fortunate than many of her colleagues who were given shorter contracts.

Some of Sarah’s colleagues have raised concerns that there do not seem to be many opportunities for administrative staff to progress, especially when compared with those for academic staff. However, every year she moves up a point in her salary grade, so she considers that an indication she is moving up the ladder.

“I could progress by gently working my way up through the grades. The grades above me start to line manage people and I’d be looking at that in a few years’ time.”

Key insights

Idealists place a strong emphasis on the pursuit of purpose and meaning through work. Some of these young workers may be in the same sector as certain strivers (ie those in healthcare), but are not as far along in their careers or are holding different jobs that they feel more passionately about.

Idealists are disproportionately ‘millennials’, but the two shouldn’t necessarily be conflated — millennials are a diverse cohort. It may surprise some that many millennials are idealists given that our survey shows that workers are more likely to value ‘softer’ outcomes, such as the ability to make a positive contribution to society, at an older age. According to Erik Erikson’s eight stage theory of identity and psychosocial development, young adults (or millennials, between the ages of 18 and 35) are primarily motivated to establish an income, home, and family life. However, idealists are already considering their social contribution as well, which is typically a focus at later stages. It may be that because idealists are among the most likely to be able to depend on others in their household to support them financially, they are relatively free to pursue wider objectives than a high-paying job, for example.

Compared to other workers, idealists lack flexibility in work, which can broadly be understood as the opportunity of workers to make choices influencing when, where, and for how long they engage in work-related tasks. In our survey, we analysed flexibility as an extension of autonomy, or the concept of having more freedom and control over when and how you work (ie over when you start and finish, or the way in which you undertake tasks). As these are job traits that are more valued with time and experience, we expect idealists will seek out greater flexibility and autonomy as they grow older. In general, there is good reason to introduce more flexible working arrangements (FWAs). A report from Acas found that although organisations are often reluctant to implement a widespread roll-out of flexible working arrangements (FWAs), they also benefit alongside individuals and teams. Contrary to fears of lower productivity, flexible working increases both personal and team effectiveness.

The Strivers

Economic situation

Strivers are in the second best position financially. Nearly half (44 percent) earn a salary of more than £28,000, while half hold more than £10,000 in savings. When asked about how they manage to make ends meet each month, the majority (76 percent) reported that they do so comfortably. Most are homeowners — a third own their home outright (33 percent) and some (45 percent) are paying off their mortgage.

While strivers are rarely concerned about debt or income volatility, some are unhappy with their pay packets. Despite having above average earnings, just 20 percent feel they are paid a fair wage. Although they are, for the most part, economically secure, they have a sub-par experience across many dimensions of work, which may in part be why they feel under-paid (especially considering they also report working excessive hours). Yet, in spite of this, they are unlikely to want to change careers. This suggests that many will continue to strive onwards to preserve or improve their material circumstances, even if they do not fully enjoy or feel adequately acknowledged for their work.

Experience of work

Most strivers feel secure in their jobs and their satisfaction with training and career progression is in line with the workforce average. However, they have less autonomy at work than some other segments. Just 44 percent (in contrast with 57 percent of all workers) feel they have freedom and control over their daily tasks, and only 25 percent (compared with 41 percent) feel they have control over when they start and finish work. One in three feel excessively monitored.

Strivers have the lowest wellbeing at work of all segments. More than half feel they work excessive hours, which can make it difficult for them to fulfil commitments outside of work. They often find their work stressful and many are unhappy or depressed at work. Some (32 percent) are worried about being treated unfairly. While 90 percent are full-time employees, few (23 percent) feel supported by HR.

Strivers are some of the least ‘engaged’ employees. Relative to other segments, they are less likely to share the values of their organisation or feel proud to tell people who they work for. On the whole, they are among the least likely of the segments to find their jobs to fulfilling.


This segment has a mix of age groups, broadly mirroring that of the working age population. Most do not have any dependent children. Of those that do, their children tend to be adolescents as opposed to very young. Relative to other segments, strivers are more likely to be middle managers (16 percent) or professionals (18 percent), and found working in transport and logistics, health and social care, and the public sector.

Portrait of a Striver — Adam, 23

After finishing his A-levels, Adam decided to find a job rather than go to university or college. He first started working in a bank, progressing from frontline roles in customer service to an analyst of mobile banking. Around two and a half years ago, he began working for a railway company managing trains. He was drawn to the job because of the employment benefits and opportunity to travel for work.

Adam works shifts that can start as early as 4am, or as late as midnight, and can be on any day of the week. If he could change anything about the job, he’d like more flexibility and the option to choose his own hours rather than adhere to a schedule set for him. Even his holidays are allocated to him.

For the most part, Adam’s job is routine. “Some days you can get something that throws you a curveball, but nine times out of 10 things are the same.” He’d prefer more variety in his tasks. “My job gets a bit repetitive.” That said, when something out of the ordinary happens, it can really take a toll.

“Customers can be stressful. Especially on Friday and Saturday nights, you get people who have had a few too many drinks. Also, if things are delayed, you can get stuck in the middle of nowhere. I’ve had to manage the disruption. [Stress] can vary — up from nothing at all to nine or 10 when something is kicking off.”

While he’s not worried about job security right now, he recognises it may be an issue in future.

“I don’t think any job is secure. I don’t worry about it on a daily basis, but it is in the back of my mind that this job won’t be around forever. It’s a long-term thing though, it’s not like I need to get another job quick.”

Adam reckons that automation will affect his industry within the next decade. However, he hasn’t joined a trade union yet and is uncertain about whether he will.

“I don’t always agree with the way they go about things… They’re always doing what’s best for them rather than what’s best for the staff. They don’t listen to all of the members, all of the decisions are made within the union.”

Adam sees himself as a natural leader, and is interested in progressing his career. He’d like a job that pays more, but is currently waiting for the right opportunity.

Key insights

Some of the sectors that strivers are concentrated in have been widely restructured, particularly in the recent years of austerity. Strivers tend to be found in the public sector, health and social care, and transport and logistics. It may be that some once found their jobs meaningful, but have since struggled with greater demands and pressures.

According to the TUC, stress in the workplace has reached record highs. In their most recent biennial survey of health and safety reps in the UK, stress was identified as the greatest hazard troubling them and their workforces — seven in 10 reps (70 percent) cited stress as a problem. However, workers are also less supported in the workplace now as trade union membership continues to decline. Traditionally, the sectors that strivers are found in have had strong trade unions, but according to the most recent statistics published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, membership has fallen sharply, particularly in the public sector. In 2016, around 6.2m employees in the UK were trade union members, but this is the lowest level of trade union membership recorded since 1995 when the series began. The level of overall trade union members decreased by 275,000 (of which 209,000 was in the public sector) over the year from 2015, the largest annual fall since 1995. As the trade union movement appears to be in crisis, workers must increasingly shoulder problems on their own.

The High-flyer

Economic situation

High-flyers are in the best position financially of all workers. When compared to other segments of the labour market they are much more likely to have a high income and savings. Most (65 percent) earn more than £28,000 from work. More than half (55 percent) have at least £10,000 in savings, and nearly a third (32 percent) have more than £30,000 to their name. Few are concerned about debt or income volatility. However, the high-flyers rarely have others in their household whom they can turn to for financial support (9 percent vs 36 percent of all workers), suggesting that they are often the main breadwinner.

Overall, when asked about how well they manage to make ends meet each month, 77 percent of high-flyers report that they do so comfortably in and many have money left over to save spend or invest.

High-flyers have reached a point of success in their careers. They are the most affluent and have a good work experience. But while they don’t appear to be making any trade-offs, it is possible that some may face pressure to continue performing or providing for their households at a high level, as in the case of Alan, who we interviewed for our portrait of a high-flyer. They may also be interested in even greater autonomy than they already enjoy, which may only be found if they follow through on opportunities to become their ‘own boss’ through self-employment.

Experience of work

High-flyers report that they have autonomy and flexibility in work, and find their jobs to be fulfilling. Many have freedom and control over when they start and finish work, and what they do on a day-to-day basis. The majority (77 percent) are involved in decision making that affects their work. A significant number (70 percent) are able to access flexible working arrangements. They find their work interesting and believe that their jobs make good use of their skills. Relative to other segments, they are more likely to feel like their job has status and is well-respected.

By and large, high-flyers are happy at work, free from worry about being treated unfairly. They report relatively low levels of stress (33 percent vs 47 percent of all workers). High-flyers tend to share the values of their organisation and are proud to tell people who they work for. They are more optimistic than other segments about their scope for progression (50 percent vs 40 percent of all workers).

Like most segments, high-flyers are most likely to value a job that they find interesting. However, unlike some other segments, they value autonomy and the opportunity to use their skills more than job security. Few are considering a career change (20 percent), but more than half are open to working for themselves. Many are already self-employed.


High-flyers tend to be older (59 percent are over 45) and most (64 percent) no longer have any dependent children. These workers are typically male (71 percent) and are well-educated. In terms of their occupations, many are company directors or senior managers, skilled tradespeople, or business owners.

Portrait of a High Flyer — Alan, mid-40s

Alan works for a small business specialising in computer sales. He was attracted to the job because of the financial incentive and the opportunity to travel. For every sale, staff are awarded bonuses, and big contracts are especially lucrative. As of late, Alan also appreciates how mindful the company is of workers’ family responsibilities and their generosity with offering flexible working arrangements; Alan works from home four days a week.

Alan enjoys a high degree of autonomy in his job, which he values more at this stage in his career. To Alan, having autonomy in work means having independence.

“It means deciding what I get to do, which jobs I want to take on, and which contracts and relationships. It’s about having choice.”

Although Alan is satisfied in his job and finds it rewarding, he acknowledges that it is high-pressured. “If we don’t meet sales targets, it can be quite stressful. Sometimes you can’t — it’s just how it is really.” He finds that the goal posts are constantly moving. “With most employers, there is a tendency to push, push, push. When you attain certain targets, they see that as a target plus 10 percent gross. It all hinges on performance. You are as good as your last assignment.” Alan may have economic security, but this does not mean he has job security. “If I didn’t meet sales targets for three months, I would probably be out of a job.” However, the likelihood of Alan easily finding another job is high.

In his many years in sales, Alan has learned to cope with the pressure. “Stress goes with the job and is part of the territory.” He takes advantage of some of the perks his company offers to unwind; they pay for his gym membership and offer the staff courses in pottery and Tai Chi. He is also trying to find a better balance between his work and family life, and takes comfort in being able to make the most of his time with them when he is has it.

“Financially, I am in a position that when I can find balance, I am able to make the best use of our time.”

Alan is working hard to secure his family’s future as the sole breadwinner. His ambition is to retire within the next 10 years.

Key insights

High-flyers are the most likely to thrive even if the labour market were to become increasingly hollowed out or reshaped in other ways. They have the skills to take advantage of new opportunities in a changing labour market, and the assets to coast through most challenges. They are the most likely to see new technology as exciting. However, given the disparity in experiences of security and work between high-flyers and precarious workers at the other end of the spectrum, there is concern about widening inequality. This appears to be exacerbated by asset-based inequities as home ownership increases among the top 10 percent of adults and becomes less attainable for those with the least wealth.

Shaping the future of work

Segmenting the wider workforce disrupts a binary narrative about other forms of atypical work. In one corner, there is a tendency to claim that people are being driven into insecure, exploitative work by unscrupulous businesses; in the other, this work is touted as a choice people are drawn to because it offers more freedom and control. The reality is much more complex. Our segmentation appears to substantiate the theory that there are different degrees of economic security and that experiences of work can range across a spectrum. What this means is how secure a worker is or how rewarding they find their experience of work to be depends on any number of variables, such as their household circumstances or level of autonomy over tasks, as well as what they value in work at this point in their lives. Within atypical work, there are both positive and negative experiences, as is the case in traditional employment. Our seven portraits help us derive greater nuance about the modern workforce, and pinpoint opportunities for policymakers and others to intervene in support.

Overall, there are five key implications from our segmentation.

1. Conventional jobs are no panacea.

There are more than a dozen indicators of a good experience of economic security and work (and these encompass many more variables). Contract type and employment status are certainly factors of workers’ experiences, but they are not proxies for precarity — when we confuse them for such we overlook the many workers in seemingly secure jobs who are struggling to get by.

Taking a wider view of what it means to be economically secure and to have a rewarding experience of work illuminates that there are different kinds of precarity. Some workers — whom we characterise as the chronically precarious — are on typical employment contracts, but are persistently insecure because of low pay and low savings, little in the way of assets, and no one to turn to in times of financial hardship. Their experience of work is similarly bleak; they have no autonomy over when or how they work, nor much prospect of progressing.

Other workers — known as the acutely precarious — do not have the security of a full-time, permanent employment contract, and are thus prone to income volatility and problems managing their finances. Similarly, their experience of work is mostly negative, although they do have some autonomy over when they work. They thus have a greater sense of flexibility and can work in agile ways, manoeuvring around caring responsibilities for example. It’s important to note that even within this group, there is diversity — many workers (44 percent) are highly educated, suggesting that the job they’re in is simply a stop gap whereas others may feel as if they’re ensnared.

Had we simply tried to gage economic security from contract type or employment status we would not have captured these nuances in precarity. Moreover, we would have missed that insecurity is experienced across the income distribution to varying degrees rather than exclusively felt by zero-hour contract workers, for example.

2. Insecurity is both a personal and systemic phenomenon.

Our segmentation takes into consideration that people’s feelings and lived experiences matter alongside objective notions of economic security. What people value in work as individuals affects their feelings and experiences, meaning that it’s possible for two people to be in the same kind of job and have completely different perspectives on whether it is secure enough. As we found in our survey, different beliefs about what is important in work are related to differences in age in particular, or the stage an individual is at in life or in their career. Young workers tend to seek out job security and a high income, whereas older people may sacrifice these traits for greater autonomy.

In general, it’s necessary to accord weight to the subjective when assessing economic security. Indicators such as perceived agency or perceived ability to make ends meet help us capture the social and psychological dimensions of economic security. For example, there are middle and high-income earners who may be objectively secure, but perceive themselves to be ‘just about managing’ because they feel the pressure of being sole breadwinners and are anxious about maintaining their socio-economic status.

However, as personal as insecurity is, it is also influenced by systemic factors. For example, changes to welfare rules, public service provision, and educational opportunities can relieve or heighten insecurity. Wider forces such as globalisation and new technology may reassure some and aggravate others. Likewise, current political and economic trends can instil confidence in the future or exacerbate uncertainty. For example, as Brexit looms, some are forecasting that UK growth will seriously lag behind other EU countries. This is especially worrying given that both productivity and wages are already stagnating, while the cost of living soars.

3. Shared challenges across segments betray common and pervasive problems in and beyond and the labour market.

Although we may have seven distinct portraits of modern workers, there are shared challenges between them. This is evident by the sheer number of workers who are having trouble making ends meet, can’t turn to others in the household for support, feel stressed out by their jobs, haven’t progressed in the last five years and aren’t optimistic about future prospects.

Some problems are ticking time bombs that will be acutely felt in future; for example, the proportion of workers (40 percent) who do not expect to have enough in savings to maintain a decent standard of living in retirement. Others are problems that must be tackled now, such as the quarter of workers who do not feel like they earn enough to maintain a decent standard of living.

These challenges reflect inequality in the labour market, but also more broadly in the economy in terms of asset ownership, for example. The Resolution Foundation has found that wealth inequality is on the rise and can be attributed to falling home ownership. In a recent study, they concluded that wealth is distributed far less evenly than earnings or household income. It was noted that since the financial crisis, home ownership among the least wealthy 50 percent of the population has fallen by about 12 percent while rising by 1 percent for the wealthiest tenth.

This reinforces the point that economic insecurity is more than just a labour market challenge and will likely need policies that extend beyond labour markets into areas such as asset ownership and new institutions for sharing risk and reward.

4. Different places and different sectors can have a significant bearing on experiences of work.

Some segments may be concentrated in particular places or sectors, and these places and sectors can be in turn shape people’s experiences of economic security and work. For example, it can be especially challenging to be a part of the chronically precarious in London because of the high cost of living, but this may be more bearable as a single person living in a smaller, less expensive city. Similarly, we’ve noted that some segments, such as the strivers, are predominantly middle managers or professionals working in transport and logistics, health and social care, and the public sector. The implication is that it is worth pursuing place-based and sectoral approaches to raising the security and quality of work, which reflect the support needs of specific segments.

5. More flexibility shouldn’t mean less security.

As the report from Acas demonstrated, flexibility benefits both businesses and workers. However, in exchange for offering workers greater flexibility, businesses shouldn’t relinquish their sense of responsibility for ensuring that these workers are also able to maintain a decent living. As the Taylor Review advocated, there should be two-way flexibility, meaning that businesses also help workers maintain a level of security even as the particular job or wider labour market becomes more flexible. There could be a revival of the Quaker industrialist tradition, for example, in ensuring that workers have access to housing, transport, and recreational space.

Yet, it’s important to keep in mind that no single reform will improve the economic security and employment experiences of British workers. We do not purport to be offering all of the necessary solutions and our suggested interventions, ranging from local enforcement of the minimum wage to personalised training accounts, are a starting point.

There are three types of interventions that can be made to improve the circumstances of workers in the UK:

1. Alleviating interventions ease challenges that workers are experiencing over the short-term through a targeted approach; they are not designed to disrupt the status quo.

2. Transformative interventions seek to address systemic problems over the long-term to change circumstances for workers.

3. Innovative interventions are efforts to bridge the two, working towards transformation through experimenting with and trialling different approaches.

In our future programme of work we will consider how the portraits we have painted of today’s workplace might be impacted by macroeconomic forces such as automation, demographic change and globalisation.

We will also carry out more detailed research into potential reforms and innovations, including those outlined above that hold the most promise. Over the next two years, the RSA’s Future Work Centre intends to examine different scenarios for the future of work that draws on these seven portraits. We will take a more detailed look at particular sectors where change is rapid and disruptive, collaborating with stakeholders across business, government and the workforce.

Our seven portraits enhance our understanding of workers’ current experiences of economic security and the quality of work in the UK today, as well as offering a glimpse of how workers can enjoy high levels of both. However, it also makes clear the scale of the challenge if we are to realise the RSA’s vision of an economy in which everyone can experience economic security and have access to good quality work that supports their pursuit of a larger life well-lived.



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