A crumpled jacket draped over an unoccupied office chair as the evening wears on will be one of the most enduring emblems of the workplace of the 1990s. As a snapshot of an insecure labour force, the image suggests employees who, in sneaking away from the office long after their contracted hours are done, still fret over the consequences of any perceived lack of dedication. There are other explanations for that jacket, of course, not least the sheer ambition of those who want to flourish in an up-or-out culture. But for the majority, the roots of such presenteeism lie in a deep-seated and widespread dread, cultured during the last recession and not abandoned since, that our jobs could go tomorrow - that, as employees, we are not so much value-adding individuals as commodities whose price can be undercut overnight.
No matter how far we have come out of that recession, nothing, it seems, will shake the dogged belief that job security and permanent, as opposed to freelance, employment are things of the past. And, yet, as David Smith argues on page 38, a close look at the numbers suggests otherwise. Not only is employment up, but so too are job tenure figures. More staff, be they full-or part-time, enjoy employment protection rights than at the turn of the decade. And recent surveys show that most employees currently expect their firms to create jobs rather than to cut them. True, short-term contracts are clearly on the increase. But the rise is far less significant than some would suggest, and we resort to this arrangement far less than many of our competitors, either in Europe or elsewhere.
True, the number of people in part-time rather than full-time employment in the UK is undeniably on the increase. But this is often the result of a positive lifestyle choice by the employee, rather than of a negative commercial decision by the employer.
The picture is not universally rosy. The unskilled and the poorly paid have reason enough for their concern, as indeed do those in their 50s, frequent victims of first-in, first-out policies when redundancies are in the air. Those with grey hairs have every reason to be sceptical of belated words of regret at the sorry consequences for companies relying on more youthful staff. For the majority of the working population, however, a look at the numbers suggests that the current climate of job insecurity is based on something more akin to paranoia than to reality.
Numbers alone are never enough to persuade a nation that the glass is half full, not half empty - had they been, the Conservative Party would most probably have had a far easier ride over the past couple of years.
It is ironic, however, that while the employment glass has been filling for quite some time now, the working population has still managed to convince itself that it is dying of thirst.