Work shy and retiring: have we fallen out of love with work?

Battle of Ideas festival 2022, Sunday 16 October, Church House, London


Is our attitude to work changing? UK job vacancies remain high, but many people are opting for early retirement, part-time or ‘flexibilised’ working. In addition, low morale, stress and burnout are increasingly cited as the main reasons for people leaving or wanting to leave their job.

Professional bodies have complained that their members – such as doctors, nurses and teachers – are threatening to quit due to the mental-health impact of their work. Last summer, one of the main reasons cited for the HGV driver shortage was that the job had become too ‘tough’, discouraging young people from taking it up. Recent reports and general, widespread opinion seems to be that jobs just aren’t good for us.

Many jobs are renowned for being monotonous and boring, but ‘earning your keep’ used to be a source of pride and self-respect. Is this no longer the case? One of the reasons cited for the post-pandemic labour shortage was the record number of workers choosing not to return to work by voluntarily removing themselves from the official ‘seeking employment’ statistics.

Has work really become too much to put up with? Will our desire for an easier life, more family and leisure time make us feel as good about ourselves the way a job ‘well done’ used to do? Is the nature of jobs to blame? Or have we simply fallen out of love with work?

Brian Denny
trade-union journalist, Rebuild Britain; author, Rebuild Britain’s Fishing Industry; curator, Working River: songs and music of the Thames project

Simon Hoppe
partnerships success director

Linda Murdoch
former director of careers, University of Glasgow

Angelica Walker-Werth
writer, editor and programmes manager, Objective Standard Institute

Dr Glynne Williams
associate professor, school of business, University of Leicester

Para Mullan
former operations director, EY-Seren; fellow, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development