Good work is… Why work can and should be a force for good, for all

“Work can, and should, be a force for good, for all. Good work is purposeful. Good work is safe and inclusive. Good work exists for the long-term benefit of individuals, organisations and society. These are the fundamental principles of good work.”

That was the message that I gave as part of a panel at the RSA Annual Lecture delivered by Matthew Taylor, CEO of the RSA, which was about the principles and ideas behind what good work is.

Matthew has been leading a government review of whether “employment regulation and practices are keeping pace with the changing world of work”. As the professional body for experts on people, work and change, our members have a critical role to play in leading for change in this debate.

The truth is that, in 2017, work is not good for everyone.

Work should do more than meet our basic financial needs and contribute to economic growth; it should also improve the quality of our lives by giving us meaning and purpose and contributing to our overall well-being.

Yet work is stressful: the average cost of absence stands at £554 per employee per year – a cost that less than two-fifths of organisations regularly monitor. And 38% of employees report feeling under excessive pressure at work at least once a week.

Work has led to too many employees feeling disengaged and without voice; people are concerned about job security; there has been a lack of progress on diversity and inclusion; and we continue to face productivity challenges – with the UK standing at 17th in the G20 for productivity per person. Two decades of relative under-investment in skills development in the workplace has contributed to the country lagging behind competitors in Europe, and at a national level the UK lags on most of the OECD on key measures of literacy and numeracy, learning and development and digital skills. Employers in the UK spend less on training than in other major EU economies and less than EU average – the gap has been widening since 2005.

We need an alternative future where work is a force for good in which we all flourish as individuals and can contribute to society and the economy. A place where people are valued not as assets to be sweated but as partners in value creation. To redefine work. To stop thinking about work in purely financial terms. To think about the kind of work that is valuable to society, and freeing people to do things that could give their work more meaning and improve health and well-being.

Today we’ve launched the CIPD’s Manifesto for Work urging the next Government to put ‘good work’ at the heart of its thinking, in order to improve the economy and boost individual welfare and prosperity – contributing towards good work for all. It contains a package of reforms that can: 

  1. rebuild trust between all stakeholders through better governance and take the focus away from just short-term profit
  2. promote inclusive practice that allows better access to work and progression
  3. support investment in skills for all, particularly future-relevant skills and lifelong learning
  4. underscore that good work is not only about the type of contract but linked to rights and conditions.

Why? Because we need to make much more progress in creating inclusive workplaces and providing opportunities for progression, in a fairer distribution of reward, and in creating working environments that engage our people and support rather than undermine their well-being. And we need to rebuild trust in our leaders, in big business and in our establishment institutions – which means greater transparency. In a survey of 10,000 HR and business leaders, one in three reported they have had to compromise their principles to meet current business needs. That cannot continue if we want to create the right conditions for good work.

By investing in areas like skills and lifelong learning, boosting diversity in the workplace and ensuring that we enhance and protect the rights of employees, we can not only transform corporate cultures, but also help build the high-skill economy needed to cope with the challenges we’re facing.

I’d really encourage everyone to participate in the debate on good work that the RSA has launched on social media (#Goodworkis) and to engage in the CIPD’s own conversations on the future of work (#ChangingHR #Workischanging). It’s a great opportunity for you to have a say on something that impacts each and every one of us. So use your voice and get involved.

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