Institute of Education
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Researchers urge greater autonomy for employees in the workplace

Employees' ability to influence decisions at work is one of the most important factors affecting their motivation and psychological well-being. Yet, first findings from the 2012 Skills and Employment Survey (SES), published recently show a growing sense of disempowerment amongst Britain's workforce.

One report on the findings, 'Job Control in Britain', examines trends over time in the levels of control employees in Britain have in relation to their jobs and workplaces. It reveals a mixed picture.

Although there has been little change between 2006 and 2012 in formal provisions for staff to participate in wider organisational decisions, the proportion of employees who report that they have a great deal or quite a lot of say over work organisation declined from 36% to 27% between 2001 and 2012.

"The apparent decline in the effectiveness of mechanisms of wider organisational participation is worrying given that it has been shown to be an important source of organisational commitment, as well as reducing insecurity in a period of rapid change," says the report.

The Skills and Employment Survey, conducted every five to six years, is led by the Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES), based at the Institute of Education, London, and funded jointly by the Economic and Social Research Council and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills.

'Job Control in Britain' also shows that:

  • There was a rise in the proportion of employees working in "semi-autonomous" teams – those with significant control over their work activities – from 14% in 2006 to 18% in 2012. This rise reverses a previous long-term decline.
  • Between 2006 and 2012 the proportion of jobs using self-managed (highly autonomous) teams almost doubled, rising from 4% to 7%.
  • Overall, the level of task discretion (employees' immediate control over their work tasks) has been stable since 2001, after a sharp decline in the 1990s.

"The increase of teams with influence is the first sign that British management might be beginning to take note of views about work organisation that have become increasingly prevalent in managerial theories of high performance organisations," says the report. "Yet the absence of any improvement with respect to individual task discretion, after a marked decline in the 1990s, is of concern given the evidence of its importance for employees' motivation and for their psychological and physical health."

Editors' notes:

Three reports have been published today (April 24): Skills at Work in Britain, Training in Britain and Job Control in Britain. Download them at

Press contacts:

To interview Professor Green or Professor Felstead or for copies of the reports please contact:

Diane Hofkins oror James Russell in the IOE press office
020 7911 5556 or

Skills and Employment Survey, 2012

SES2012 is the sixth in a series of nationally representative sample surveys of individuals in employment aged 20-60 years old (although the 2006 and 2012 surveys additionally sampled those aged 61-65). The numbers of respondents were: 4,047 in the 1986 survey; 3,855 in 1992; 2,467 in 1997; 4,470 in 2001; 7,787 in 2006; and 3,200 in 2012. For each survey, weights were computed to take into account the differential probabilities of sample selection, the over-sampling of certain areas and some small response rate variations between groups (defined by sex, age and occupation). All of the analyses that follow use these weights.

The Skills and Employment Survey is funded jointly by the Economic and Social Research Council and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills through the ESRC Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES) which acts as the host institution. It is directed by Alan Felstead (Cardiff University and Visiting Professor at the Institute of Education) in collaboration with Duncan Gallie at the University of Oxford and Francis Green at the Institute of Education.


The Institute of Education is a college of the University of London that specialises in education and related areas of social science and professional practice. In the most recent Research Assessment Exercise two-thirds of the Institute's research activity was judged to be internationally significant and over a third was judged to be "world leading". The Institute was recognised by Ofsted in 2010 for its "high quality" initial teacher training programmes that inspire its students "to want to be outstanding teachers". The IOE is a member of the 1994 Group, which brings together 11 internationally renowned, research-intensive universities. More at

Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES)
This ESRC-funded Research Centre investigates the role of lifelong learning in promoting economic competitiveness and social cohesion, and in mediating the interactions between the two. Key areas of research include: i) the social and cultural foundations of learning, knowledge production and transfer, and innovation, within the context of a changing economy, and ii) the effects of knowledge and skill distribution on income equality, social cohesion and competitiveness.

It has a programme of multi-disciplinary and mixed method research which addresses these issues at the level of the individual life course, through studies of city-regions and sectors in the UK, and through comparative analysis across OECD countries. More at


The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's total budget for 2012-13 is £205 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. More at


The UK Commission for Employment and Skills is a publicly funded, industry led organisation providing strategic leadership on skills and employment issues in the four home nations of the UK. More at

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