About the National Study of the Changing Workforce

SUMMARY

At Families and Work institute, we created a unique resource for the business community and public—the National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW), an ongoing nationally representative study of the U.S. workforce. Building on the U. S. Department of Labor’s 1977 Quality of Employment Survey, this study was designed and conducted by Families and Work Institute (FWI) in 1992, 1997, 2002, 2008 and in 2016, becoming a project of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in 2016. The Families and Work Institute continues to analyze data and produce reports from the 2016 NSCW.

The NSCW has enabled us to address important research question over the past three decades using a large, representative sample of employed people ages 18 and older in the U.S.

WHY WE CONDUCTED THE NATIONAL STUDY OF THE CHANGING WORKFORCE?

The National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW) has been the major study of the U.S. workforce that takes a comprehensive look at employees’ lives both on and off the job. Conducted every five to six years by Families and Work Institute between 1992 and 2016, the NSCW has been the only ongoing, nationally representative survey of a large sample of U.S. workers and has tracked emerging trends essential to attracting, engaging and retaining top talent for more than three decades. The NSCW has been a vital and irreplaceable resource for the business community, academia, the media and the general public because it:

  • Unearthed emerging issues, tracks trends and provides insights that lead to action. Families and Work Institute is always commended for being ahead of the curve, and it is the NSCW that enables us to do so. The NSCW provides unique opportunities to identify workforce issues as they emerge and to track trends over time, whether the ambitions of young employees or aspects of work that motivate or dissatisfy employees. NSCW findings track demographic trends in the workforce, and the characteristics of their work environments that most engage them. Most importantly, the NSCW enables decision makers to take well-informed action, based on the most robust data available.
  • Is representative of all workers. Unlike most other research on the workforce, the NSCW is based on a large sample and provides definitive information about all populations of the U.S. workforce, including employees, small business owners, and contingent workers.
  • Asks the right questions. The NSCW has its finger on the pulse of the American workforce and covers a broad array of subjects germane to employees’ experiences and attitudes. With more than 600 data points, the NSCW prides itself on being able to answer almost every question that is asked of it.
  • Provides useful data for traditional and online news media, books and academic publications. NSCW findings have been headline news in such media as USA Today, NBC, ABC, CBS, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and others.

BACKGROUND

Beginning in 1969, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) funded three studies of the nation’s workforce as part of the Quality of Employment Survey (QES). The last survey in this series, conducted in 1977, marked the first time that research on a large representative sample of U.S. workers collected information about not only the work lives of employees, but their personal lives as well. When the QES program ended for a variety of reasons in 1977, a 15-year gap ensued during which there were numerous small-scale studies of life on and off the job, but no large-scale studies of nationally representative samples.

Families and Work Institute (FWI) stepped into this breach in the early 1990s by obtaining business support for the National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW) as an ongoing research program of the Institute and worked with DOL to make this transition. FWI’s program is more explicit and comprehensive than the QES in addressing issues related to both work and personal life. It also reflects a strong business perspective in addition to the broad social and public policy perspectives that shaped the QES. It is crafted to address timely questions about the changing workforce that are of high practical importance to decision makers. In fact, all of the original funders of the 1992 NSCW suggested questions for the study that were of major business concern.

The primary goals of our research have been not only to identify emerging issues and to track trends in the changing workforce, but also to provide actionable information to the business community by determining what employers can do to make work “work” more effectively. In particular, we look for actions that can benefit both employers and employees. For example, we have used research to identify the ingredients of an effective workplace and have found them to include job autonomy, learning opportunities, input into management decision making, supervisor and co-worker support for job success, economic security and work-life fit. The NSCW reveals that employees in more effective workplaces are more engaged in and satisfied with their jobs, less likely to plan to leave their employers, and in better physical and mental health.

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1Quinn, R.P. and Staines, G.L. (1979). The 1977 Quality of Employment SurveyAnn Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan.

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