First-of-its-kind research into underemployment launched

Friday, 24 February 2023

Academics at the University of Nottingham are exploring the lived experiences of underemployed workers as part of a first-of-its-kind multi-institutional research project.

The £950,000 ESRC-funded study will see Nottingham working with the University of Bristol, the University of Salford and the University of the West of Scotland, as well as Bristol One City, Salford City Council, Citizens UK Nottingham, and the Poverty Alliance to track levels and experiences of underemployment over time in the UK and across Europe.

The in-depth research will look at underemployed workers, who are classed as individuals who work below their potential or preference in terms of hours, wages and skills. From January 2023 until January 2026, the team will analyse the characteristics and effects of underemployment, detail the composition of the underemployed workforce, pinpoint the predictors and outcomes of being underemployed and highlight the lived experiences of underemployed workers in the four UK cities.

luis torres
Most official measures of underemployment are limited to hours worked. This does not consider the case of workers who, although having a full-time job, have low wages or may feel that their skills as underutilised. We consider this multidimensionality to provide a complete picture of underemployment.
Dr Luis Torres-Retamal, Assistant Professor in Organisational Behaviour at Nottingham University Business School
Tracey Warren resize
People might argue that ‘having any job is better than having no job at all’. Our research project is querying that mantra. It is highlighting the lives of those workers who are in employment but are having to work in inadequate jobs.
Dr Tracey Warren, Professor of Sociology at Nottingham University Business School

Dr Vanesa Fuertes, Senior Lecturer in the School of Health and Life Sciences at UWS, said: “Underemployment is an increasing feature of our society and a concern for our economy, but its definition, roots, impact, and magnitude have not been the subject of detail or in-depth study until now. By fully understanding the lived experiences of underemployment, the aim is to improve circumstances for underemployed people, their families and communities, and also importantly employers and the economy, who might not be making best use of the labour force’s abilities or skills.

“A key aim of the project is to offer evidence-based policy recommendations that could help policy makers, and other interested parties, to tackle the negative consequences resulting from underemployment.”

The study will gather data on how underemployment affects individuals’ health and wellbeing, finances, relationships, future labour opportunities, and other facets of their lives.

The project will also explore the effect of underemployment on their families and neighbourhoods, their civic participation, work engagement and productivity.

Dr Vanessa Beck from the University of Bristol said: “The project aims to further our understanding of what the lived experience of underemployment looks like and possibilities there are to improve such experiences.”

Dr Daiga Kamērade from the University of Salford said: “Underemployment often has far reaching implications for the workers themselves, their wellbeing, financial security and their families and communities around them. We will look at these implications.”

To find out more about the project, visit

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Luis Torres-Retamal in the Nottingham University Business School at; or Professor Tracey Warren in the Nottingham University Business School at

Katie Andrews - Media Relations Manager for the Faculty of Social Sciences
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Notes to editors:

The University of Nottingham

Ranked 18th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings 2023, University of Nottingham is a founding member of Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement.  

The University is among the best universities in the UK for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.The University is a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally - and our graduates are the second most targeted by the UK's top employers, according to The Graduate Market in 2022 report by High Fliers Research.

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