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Zurich and Oxford University study reveals risks and opportunities for UK workers

June 20, 2019

  • Having too little saved for retirement emerges as the UK’s top financial worry for 41% respondents
  • Nearly a quarter (23%) changing jobs out of choice rather than through redundancy
  • Women significantly less likely to supervise others at work reinforcing wider gender-gap challenges
  • Fewer than half (49%) of UK respondents willing to undertake career retraining

Zurich Oxford University Perceptions on Protection report 2019A study "Perceptions on protection: Surveying workers to build new agile solutions"published today by Zurich and the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford explores people’s job situations, their concerns about technology, their willingness to adapt to change, and knowledge of financial planning.  Carried out among 16,500 individuals representative of the working population in 15 countries, the findings are presented both globally and at a UK level.  

The report also highlights that new technologies, globalization and demographic shifts are changing the way we work and examines the potential influences these changes will have on the workforce and the financial protection that workers have in place. 


Key findings include:
- Having too little saved for a comfortable retirement emerges as their current top financial worry. 41% of UK respondents identified adequate retirement savings as first among many potential personal-finance concerns, however in Germany it was an even bigger concern at 56%. Paying for monthly bills was cited as the 2nd biggest UK concern (27%).
Job instability is as likely to be voluntary as involuntary. 12% of UK respondents said they expect to lose their job in the next year. Interestingly, however, an even greater proportion (23%) said they had plans to leave their job voluntarily within the same time period.  This compared to 16% in Germany and 36% in Japan.
17% of UK respondents worry about losing their job to technology in the next 5 years, compared to 39% in Italy and 44% in Japan
-Fewer than half (49%) of UK respondents said they were willing to sacrifice one evening of leisure time per week for six months in order to undertake professional retraining or to learn new skills. This compares to 67% in Spain and 81% in the UAE
-Women are significantly less likely (27% to 38% for men) to supervise others at work reinforcing wider gender-gap challenges.  This suggests that their status at work, in terms of income and possibly even job security, tends to be lower than men’s. This compares to 30% and 35% respectively in Brazil and 25% and 52% in Japan where there is a significant gender challenge.  
-  Women report being less knowledgeable about insurance products than men – just 17% of UK respondents said they knew about income protection compared to 26% men. This compares to 32% and 38% respectively in Switzerland, perhaps reflective of a more integrated public and private welfare system 
Many self-employed people lack a financial safety net despite experiencing time off work through illness.  Despite this, just 3% said they had any income protection cover in place in the event of this happening again. 
Of those that have experienced ill-health, the most common reason (for 35%) was due to mental health issues including anxiety and depression.  

The traditional model of a job for life with a single employer is no longer the norm for many with new technology creating more opportunities for self-employment and ‘gig’ work. Nine per cent of UK respondents said they already have multiple jobs, this compares to 17% in the US and 18% in Japan.   But while workers’ flexibility increases, they are also more prone to gaps when it comes to job and income security. Agile Protection is part of a wider campaign to gain insights into the ways people are evolving and coping with these new realities affecting not just individuals in the workforce, but society as a whole.   

Commenting on the UK findings, Nick Homer, Head of Corporate Risk said, “Our objective is to learn more about how workers see their own situations and circumstances and how businesses see their role evolving within the new world of work.  The study should contribute to the broader debate about work and financial resilience over the coming years making it easier for those setting policy to respond effectively.  

“We know that any solution to provide better protection for people and their families must involve multiple stakeholders across the public and private sectors.  It means collaborating with Government and others to encourage greater awareness of the issues, and more provision of support through workplaces and individually.  Also key is making sure that any welfare provision works alongside any private arrangements in place.  We’ve seen some progress here with clarification last year that lump sum pay-outs from critical illness and life insurance policies won’t impact on means testing for some benefits like Universal Credit where money can be used to clear mortgages or other debt.  However the same protection isn’t given to rental payments, showing there’s more work to be done .” 

Agile Protection is part of a  major three-year research program with Zurich and the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford (launched in November 2018) exploring the potential for developing frameworks involving different stakeholders, so more workers are provided with flexible protection and financial support in an increasingly fragmented labour market. 

Key milestones for the Agile Protection research program include: 

  • In October 2019, there will be a more detailed and in-depth study of the issues headlined in this global overview and the country specific commentaries.  This will include insights as to how individuals might respond and also how public and private organizations play their role in sustaining long-term welfare.
  • Understanding the role of companies in the changing world of work is important. In 2020 Zurich will seek to better understand the issues from the perspectives of employers in a multi-country survey on policies and practices and how country specific circumstances may frame these.
  • Following this, Zurich will publish a series of recommendations to improve financial protection for individuals – including those in non-traditional employment. Recommendations will be directed towards governments, employers, insurers and other financial institutions and intermediaries, as well as individuals and households.

For more information visit