People in UK least likely to say work is important in their life – global survey

People in the UK are among the least likely to view work as very important in their life and to think it should always come first when compared to views in several other countries, research has suggested.

The public is more likely now than 40 years ago to say that it would be a good thing if less importance was placed on work, according to the survey, but there are differences in attitudes among the generations.

More than half of UK millennials, people in their late 20s to early 40s, who took part in the World Values Survey (WVS) in 2022 of 24 countries said it would be a good thing if less importance was placed on work, a rise from 31% in 2005.

The results, analysed by the Policy Institute at King’s College London, found that views among the two oldest generations went in the opposite direction, with only a third (34%) of Baby Boomers (people aged in their late 50s to late 70s) and a fifth of the pre-war generation (22%) thinking it would be a good thing if less importance was placed on work.

Overall, the UK was the least likely countries to say work was very or rather important in their life, with 73% saying so, just slightly behind Russians and Canadians.

The Philippines, Indonesia and Nigeria all had 97% or more respondents saying work was very important in their lives.

Just over a fifth (22%) of people in the UK said work should always come first, even if it means less spare time, ahead of only Australia, Canada and Japan.

Between 1981 and 2022, the share of the British public who said it would be a good thing if less importance was placed on work rose from 26% to 43%.

Almost four in 10 UK survey respondents said they believe hard work usually brings a better life, and the proportion who said they think both hard work and luck are equally important for success rose from 40% to 49% between 1990 and 2022.

Professor Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, said: “The UK is among the least likely from a wide range of countries to say work is important to their own life, that it should be prioritised over spare time or that hard work leads to success and that not working makes people lazy.

“There are, however, very different views between generations in the UK, with older generations more likely to say work should be prioritised, even as it becomes less important in their own lives as they move into retirement.

Commuters make their way across a platform at Blackfriars Station, London (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“Millennials, in contrast, have become much more sceptical about prioritising work as they’ve made their way through their career.

“There will be a number of explanations for these shifts, from the nostalgia that tends to grow as we age, in thinking younger generations are less committed than we were, and the long-term economic and wage stagnation that will lead younger generations to question the value of work.

“But the data also shows a long-term shift in preferences for work-life balance across a wide range of richer countries, where over the last 40 years across many major economies, more now say that it would be a good thing if less importance was placed on work.”

For the research a total of 3,056 adults were interviewed by Ipsos through a mix on face-to-face and online survey methods and the researchers said analysis of trends is for Great Britain only due to a lack of available trend data from Northern Ireland.