Changing expectations: work, wages and modern life

Despite years of economic growth and recovery in Ireland, the most basic demands continue to challenge the country’s millennial generation: a secure job, a secure wage and a secure home. However, with changing times come changing expectations – and Ireland’s shifting employment market is no different.

In a jobs market that offers fewer and fewer permanent and secure positions, a general consensus is now held which places the pursuit of a ‘nine-to-five’ schedule as a key aspiration of those on the job-hunt. However, a recent study carried by YouGov on behalf of McDonald’s Ireland challenges that sentiment, with data suggesting that workers are increasingly looking towards flexibility as an essential allowance from prospective employers.

Whilst an employee culture exemplified by the standard ‘9-5’ working shift exists, research demonstrates that in reality, this is a work pattern held by only 5 per cent of the workforce. The study, which surveyed 1,000 Irish employees found that only 45 per cent of respondents said they currently work patterns which best suit their personal lives. Furthermore, of those with flexible hours who participated in the survey, 82 per cent said that it made them feel more positive about their jobs, with 79 per cent saying that it was a key reason to stay with their current employer for longer.

The YouGov survey also found that almost half of respondents would prefer to start their working before 9am and finish before 5pm. Indeed, the findings of the research suggest that growing numbers of Irish workers are moving away from traditional working patterns, instead opting for positions which allow them to work on a flexible basis, granting them the opportunity to prioritise commitments outside of work.

Whilst unemployment rates in Ireland continue to fall (to a current rate of 6.1 per cent), rates of working poverty continue to rise, with Social Justice Ireland recently reporting that over 100,000 people currently live in poverty despite being in employment. These facts have raised pertinent questions around the efficacy of the ‘gig economy’, which is currently flourishing across Ireland and beyond. The gig economy is defined as ‘a labour market characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work, as opposed to permanent jobs’. As one of the most hotly-debated topics in the world of business and employment, the gig economy in Ireland is characterised by zero-hour contracts, minimum-wage jobs and contract work – jobs inhabited mainly by Ireland’s growing ‘millennial’ population.

Whilst the casualisation of work is promoted to workers as a lifestyle choice, unions have denounced the practice as precarious in nature and denigrative of workers’ rights. 61 per cent of workers in Ireland considered to be in a position of precarious employment are aged between 15 and 34 – and with house prices rising, along with barriers to both employment and education, the challenges facing the young, ‘flexible workforce’ are more numerous than ever.

Beyond working schedules, Irish workers are increasingly demonstrating changing expectations in regard to their place, or mode of work. Results of the same survey suggest that social workplaces are joining flexibility amongst the top priorities for modern workers. Almost two-thirds of respondents said that a sociable workplace ties with pay as top criteria for ‘good jobs’ (63 per cent), with 58 per cent of participants signalling that a sociable workplace is an important feature of any modern workplace.

However, while the debate surrounding the gig economy continues, significant numbers of Irish workers (31 per cent) do not believe their employer would let them work flexibly or do not feel able to ask to change the way they work.

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