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Why are only a quarter of the UK workforce optimistic about their career prospects?

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Wellbeing is a major driver of emloyee engagement.

Are you optimistic about your future career prospects? If so, you might be shocked to know that only around a quarter of the UK workforce would agree with you.

Opinium’s exclusive research in partnership with the Institute for the Future of Work (IFoW) has highlighted that despite record levels of unemployment, worker optimism is in decline; with a fifth of workers more pessimistic about their career prospects than last year. Another depressing stat was only 35% of UK workers say they currently feel satisfied with their job.

This is a concerning trend which is (rightly) being given more and more importance as businesses and policymakers become increasingly aware of the forthcoming disruption the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) will bring.

The importance of not just being employed, but also having a ‘good’ job is growing in standing amongst workers, academics and policy makers.

Recently at the ‘Setting the Vision for the Future of Work in Britain’ conference in Westminster, topics included the rise of AI and automation within the workplace, the relationship between work and good health and the importance of transferrable skills and training. All these elements of work fed into the outcome of the conference, which was a more positive vision of ‘good’ future jobs where workers were happy, healthy and given the skills needed to deal with the 4IR.

Four ways to future proof employee engagement

So, what can be done to help prepare employees for an uncertain future and boost optimism?

Well, the most crucial thing that organisations can do is to keep listening to the needs and direction of their workers. At Opinium, we’ve developed and validated a sector agnostic and internationally applicable employee engagement framework.

From our framework, we know the largest drivers of employee engagement. Here are the top four:


People care deeply about the culture they experience at their workplace, as well how this is projected externally as well. Our research has found that company culture was the largest driver of employee satisfaction. Therefore, nurturing emotions such as loyalty and pride through a trusting and friendly environment is crucial to help employees excel. In particular, we saw that organisations that foster a culture where workers have a sense of purpose and control over their work tended to perform better.


Employee wellbeing is rightfully rising to the top of the employee satisfaction agenda, and we’ve found it comes only second to company culture in terms of driving satisfaction. This is important for employers as well, as those who aren’t able to work to their full potential or need to take time off work, will by definition not be able to contribute fully to their organisation. Therefore, making organisational support available to the less able will help to keep work and life separate which will lead to a more resilient and productive workforce.

The recent launch of our Workplace Mental Wellbeing Audit, in partnership with Warwick University is an ambitious attempt to help organisations better understand their employee’s wellbeing and has already been taken up by The Drum, PRCA, The MRS, CIPR and WiPR.


Leadership does not only stem from the top of organisations, however supportive line management as well as effective senior management are undoubtable contributors to happy workers. However, our research shows that often there is a skills gap, with employees appearing less confident in their managers' ability to lead than the managers might like to think. Therefore organisations must ensure they develop manager’s and leader’s people skills to help drive productivity and create a positive, engaging environment.


Training within jobs and, more importantly, the opportunity to develop transferrable skills are essential in tackling the UK's productivity crisis, but they also prepare workers for an uncertain future. Investment in people, although the fourth largest driver of satisfaction, is undoubtably the focus and concern of many policy makers and business leaders who will need a flexible workforce to adapt to the fourth industrial revolution. Investment in skills for the long-term tends to help employee’s feel more positively about change and will give them a skill-set that is more useful in the future.

Jack Tadman is research manager at Opinium