Migrant workers really do have a better work ethic than Brits, says study

A migrant worker. Picture: Archant Library

A migrant worker. Picture: Archant Library - Credit: Archant � 2005

The perception that migrant workers have a stronger work ethic than those born in the UK has been proven for the first time, researchers say.

A study found people from Central and Eastern Europe were more than three times less likely to be absent from work than native UK workers.

Economists equate work attendance – one of the most valued attributes for employers – with work ethic.

However, the University of Bath research found the effect is a temporary phenomenon, lasting for between two to four years from the migrant's arrival in the UK.

After this period, migrant workers' absences from work increased to levels recorded by native UK workers.

Dr Chris Dawson, senior lecturer in Business Economics at the University of Bath, said: 'This is the first study with concrete evidence on the existence of the migrant work ethic.

'It backs up managers' perceptions that Polish and other Central and Eastern European migrants are harder working than UK employees, but importantly only for around two years from their arrival in the UK.

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'The study shows that the common view that UK workers are lazy compared to migrant workers is misconceived: In fact migrants are temporarily working extra hard to offset the challenges they face when they first enter the UK job market.

'We clearly see in the research that migrants new to the UK put in a couple of years of hard work, before a better understanding of our culture and job market means they adopt the same work ethic as native workers.'

The research included 113,804 people, of which 1,396 were workers from Central and Eastern Europe.

It covered employees from all occupations and found 63% of migrants worked as machine operatives or in elementary occupations, compared to 16% of UK nationals.

Existing research suggests that employers in the UK often recruit workers on the basis of their nationality, especially true in lower-skilled roles where a good work ethic is viewed as a top priority.

This means native UK workers could be missing out on jobs because their nationality is not associated with hard work, the researchers say.

They suggest the extra effort put in by migrant workers is to signal their worth to employers, potentially compensating for limited English language skills.

Migrant workers, who have on average two years more of education than their UK counterparts, may also be trying to overcome a lack of understanding about their qualifications and skills.

Those from low income countries initially perceive their UK salary to be relatively high and respond to this with increased effort.

But as they spend longer in the UK, their language skills improve, they become more knowledgeable about the job market and take on better paid roles.

They no longer have to rely on working extra hard to prove their worth and quickly assimilate into UK working culture, researchers say.

Dr Benjamin Hopkins, lecturer in Work and Employment at the University of Leicester, said: 'When the Central and Eastern European nations became part of the EU in 2004 the numbers of migrants registering to work in the UK was far beyond any projected figures.

'There was very little planning around information for employers about qualifications in these countries and how they relate to the UK system.

'This lack of understanding exacerbated the need for migrants to demonstrate their value to employers in a very practical way: By recording lower levels of absence than their colleagues from the UK.'

The study, published in the Journal Work, Employment and Society, used large scale data from the Office for National Statics UK Labour Force Survey from 2005 to 2012.

Researchers studied the absence rates of migrant workers from the eight nations of Central and Eastern Europe, which joined the EU in 2004.

The eight nations are the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

More than 600,000 workers from these nations registered for work in the UK from 2004 to 2007. The projected figure was around 13,000.