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Women are most likely to be underemployed, research finds

Women are more vulnerable to wage, skill and time-related underemployment -

Women are among the groups of UK workers who are most likely to be affected by underemployment, according to research from the Underemployment Project, a sociological investigation of underemployment.

Younger workers, workers with lower qualification levels and people from ethnic minorities are also most likely to be affected.

This was found to be true across time-related underemployment (people working fewer hours than they would like to), skills-related underemployment (people who are more skilled than their current job requires) and wage-related underemployment (workers who are underpaid for what they do).

Read more: Workers unaware of zero-hours contracts rights

“Underemployment has far-reaching implications for workers and organisations,” said Luis Torres, on behalf of the research project team.

Speaking to HR magazine, he added: “Understanding underemployment as a multidimensional phenomenon – including insufficient hours of employment, limited use of skills at work and low wages – gives HR professionals adequate tools to prepare internal processes such as HR planning, recruitment and job design.

“The project is providing HR leaders with evidence-based recommendations to help support staff and tackle the negative consequences resulting from underemployment.”

The research looks at underemployment from January 2023, and is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC/UKRI). The first year’s findings were published last month but the Underemployment Project is set to continue until January 2026.

More female than male workers in the UK are employed part-time, which is a contributing factor to the time-related aspect of unemployment. This is despite the proportion of part-time workers unable to find full-time work being significantly lower for women at around 10% compared to between 20% and 40% for men.

Added to this, underemployment is more common in female-dominated occupations, researchers for the Underemployment Project have stated.

“These first findings from the Underemployment Project raise fascinating questions about the most appropriate indicators to use in order to capture underemployment as a whole,” the research team stated. “Our second report will allow us to understand if and how the three dimensions of underemployment accumulate, and whether our indicators overlap.”

The Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Act, which is due to come into force later this year, may mitigate the time-related aspect of underemployment. The Act allows workers the right to request a predictable working pattern, provided that the workers concerned satisfy the eligibility criteria.

Read more: How HR should prepare for the introduction of predictable hours legislation

Acas is set to publish a code of practice as well as further guidance on making and handling requests. “In preparation for this, HR should look at all current policies and see what changes are needed to bring them into line with the new legislation,” said Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director for Peninsula.