In a recent study conducted by the Underemployment Project, it has been highlighted that women in the United Kingdom are disproportionately affected by underemployment, facing challenges related to wages, skills, and time.

The sociological investigation, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC/UKRI), sheds light on the multidimensional nature of underemployment, encompassing inadequate working hours, skills underutilisation, and low wages.

The research, initiated in January 2023, unveils that women, particularly those employed in female-dominated occupations, are at a higher risk of underemployment compared to their male counterparts.

Alongside women, younger workers, individuals with lower qualification levels, and members of ethnic minorities are identified as the most susceptible groups.

How can we understand underemployment?

Luis Torres, speaking on behalf of the research project team, emphasised the far-reaching implications of underemployment for both workers and organisations. Torres stated, “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 research findings, published last month, provide evidence-based recommendations for HR leaders to address the negative consequences arising from underemployment. The Underemployment Project is set to continue its investigations until January 2026.

Notably, a significant contributing factor to the time-related aspect of underemployment is the higher proportion of part-time employment among women in the UK. Although the percentage of part-time female workers unable to secure full-time positions is relatively lower at around 10 percent, compared to 20 percent to 40 percent for men, the study underscores the prevalence of underemployment in female-dominated occupations.

What does the future look like?

The researchers also anticipate that the Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Act, slated to come into force later this year, may alleviate time-related underemployment. The Act grants workers the right to request a predictable working pattern, subject to eligibility criteria.

As organisations gear up for the potential changes introduced by the Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Act, Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director for Peninsula, advises HR professionals to review current policies and make necessary adjustments to align with the upcoming legislation. The study’s second report is eagerly awaited, offering further insights into the accumulation of the three dimensions of underemployment and potential overlaps among indicators.






Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.