Matthew Taylor, head of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA), commissioned by Theresa May to undertake a review of modern employment, calls on policymakers and employers to make all work “good work” – which he defines as “fair and decent, with scope for development and fulfilment”.
The review ‘Good Work: The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices’ is based on the premise that the pace of change in the modern economy, and particularly in technology and the development of new business models, means we need a concerted approach to work which is both up to date and responsive and based on enduring principles of fairness. The labour market is changing, self-employment is rising, and innovative forms of working are leading us to question established norms.
The notion of ‘good work for all’ is one with which I can empathise. While having employment is itself vital to health and well-being, the quality of people’s work is a major factor in helping them to stay healthy and happy, something which benefits the individual and serves the wider public interest.
Taylor’s report examines the factors that are important to working people:
- People have different motivations at different points in their career and so what represents quality now may not represent quality ten years later;
- Pay is only one aspect in determining quality work; for many people fulfilment, personal development, work life balance or flexibility are just as important;
- People are most likely to enjoy what they do when they have a meaningful say at work.
What is good work?
A good job may be characterised as one where the worker feels a sense of stability, has a say in the workplace, knows that their effort is recognised and rewarded, has the skills to do the job but also to develop their potential, and trusts they will be treated fairly. Being able to structure tasks or decide on the approach to delivery can have a significant impact on the sense of fulfilment people have at work. While some are content with work where they do what they are told, for many, being able to shape work is increasingly important.
We know that engaged employees are proud of their role within the organisation; this is facilitated by a line-of-sight to career success and the organisation’s mission and goals. They are energised and committed to using their talents and discretionary effort to achieve sustainable organisational success. A spirit of teamwork and cooperation makes employees feel proud to be working for their organisation and willing to advocate as ambassadors for it; recognition and praise incentivise effective contribution and effective engagement.
I firmly believe that in the workplace and business environment we need to look at job design and organisational structures from the perspective of the employee. Organisations need to provide career management systems that allow employees to look across the organisation for opportunities and to manage their own careers.
Contracts and choice
There has been a lot of focus on the issue of flexible working and zero hour’s contracts. The ‘gig economy’ has been characterised as exploitative by the media but we should not tar all organisations with the same brush. Working with self-employed, freelance and contract staff often means companies can enhance productivity, profitability and wellbeing. Taylor suggests that too many employers and businesses are relying on zero hours, short-hours or agency contracts, when they could be more forward thinking in considering the impact on their workforce and devising fair and responsible models of employment, which strike the right balance between security, flexibility and innovation.
The self-employed make up nearly one in six UK workers, up 25% in the last ten years. This new way of working is here to stay and perhaps the conversation shouldn’t be whether the gig economy is good for workers, but how we can make it work well for all parties.
A lot of workers want flexible hours and choice the work they accept, both employers and staff increasingly look to non-traditional work arrangements. As long as the relationship is understood and has benefits for both parties it can work well. Taylor points out that individuals should be able to decide which aspects of work are more important to them and which elements they are willing to trade-off.
This new way of working does have many benefits for those who have in-demand skills and good contacts. Research by London Business School, carried out with consultancy Eden McCallum, found that 59% of independent consultants saw their freelance status as a deliberate choice, 92% were moderately or very satisfied with their working life, and 50% were making more money than when they had worked for a large firm.
It is particularly noticeable that freelance staff rather than being loyal to a particular company, tend to be loyal to specific people they work with. They choose to work with those with whom they share common values and objectives, while working independently the self-employed make connections that bring them together to feel part of a wider community. As the concept of the employee changes and the fixed office space disappears skills such as effective communication and effective collaboration become more important.
Lifelong learning and employability
I note not much air time has been given to Taylor’s recommendations around training. As the labour market changes and industries come and go, the importance of lifelong learning is growing. In fact, learning opportunities are much more important than guaranteed hours or benefits as they are the key to long-term employability.
The opportunity to develop and progress should be available to all. Those in atypical or freelance work need to obtain, improve and evidence skills and experience over the course of their working life. Taylor advocates more flexibility in the new apprenticeship scheme launched this year and enhanced Government support for lifelong learning, training and retraining alongside the development by employers and the education sector of a consistent strategic approach to employability.
We see a preference for flexible working and alternative forms of employment and in the future, I believe workers will need to be adaptable and able to learn new skills quickly. To stay employable, we will all need to update and enhance skills with lifelong learning and skills development, with employability as the goal rather than employment.
Organisations will need to adapt them to a more flexible style of working and Taylor maintains that most employers already provide fair and decent work, but the best employees demand meaning and purpose in their work; they thrive and perform to full potential in a culture that resonates with their own values and aspirations. Ensuring that all work is fair and decent with realistic scope for development and fulfilment is no easy task.
Taylor concludes his report by pointing out that good work is something for which Government needs to be held accountable but for which we all need to take responsibility. Organisations must be seen to take good work seriously and be open about their practices and ensure that all workers are able to be engaged and heard.