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  • Sarah Black

What in the world do we think about work?

I spent some time this week reading ‘The World Values Survey’. This report was featured across the UK’s media with headlines about the British being the least likely to say work is important and that it should come first. If you were intrigued by the headlines, then I recommend a quick read of the full report.

I had a couple of expectations based on the media reports and I was way off!

Person wearing a black t-shirt, using welding equipment.
Photo credit: Nate Johnson on Unsplash.

So here are my three takeaways from the full report:

If, like me, you think that the UK’s attitude to work might be a post-pandemic shift, you’re wrong. In fact, the percentage of the British public who say that work is important hasn’t changed much in thirty years. There’s also evidence that attitudes in the UK to work shift as we age so I’m curious about whether Gen Z’s attitude to work’s importance with shift over time. We’ll have to wait and see.

One of the dangers of comparing one country’s attitudes to work with others in data like this is that we don’t have enough context. I continue to be curious about the interaction between our cultural backgrounds and our attitudes to work. For example, if a culture is more collective than individual, are you more likely to feel that work is a duty towards society? How do these attitudes intersect with things like working hours, employee rights, and social attitudes to work and leisure? This is a complex topic but if you’re working globally, it is something you need to think about.

Some of the countries who rank highest for saying work should always come first and that work is very/rather important also feature in the recent United Nations 2023 Multidimension Poverty Index. There’s a danger in talking about work in a way that doesn’t acknowledge that for many people, in so many places including the UK, work is a matter of survival. I found it hard to read this report and not reflect on the interrelationship between privilege and the view that work is less important.

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