In his Review of Modern Working Practices Matthew Taylor argued that “good work for all should be a national priority”. Delivering on this commitment, however, would require – at the very least – a better understanding of what we call ‘good work’.

The Work Foundation launched its Commission on Good Work at the end of 2016 in part to understand what good work is. Therefore, the government’s response to the Taylor Review, published last month – Good Work – was very welcome indeed. Amongst other things, it set out a specific commitment to agreeing a set of measures against which the quality of work could be evaluated. The ‘five principles’ believed to underpin the quality of work – as outlined in the recently published Industrial Strategy white paper – are as follows:

  • overall worker satisfaction;
  • good pay;
  • participation and progression;
  • wellbeing, safety and security; and
  • voice and autonomy.

These ‘principles’ are consistent with some of the ‘key’ elements comprising good work we have identified through our research and long-standing expertise on this topic – outlined in the graphic below:

While it could be argued that the five principles set out by the government’s response to the Taylor Review do not go far enough – good work is a complex and multifaceted concept – it does represent a meaningful first step towards delivering on its ambition that “all work in the UK economy should be fair and decent with realistic scope of development and fulfilment”.

Of all the benefits good work can bring, it plays a particularly crucial role in protecting and enhancing people’s health and wellbeing – as we have explored previously. Encouragingly, there is a sound evidence base underpinning the five principles of good work highlighted by government and their positive impact on health and wellbeing.

For example, having job control, ‘voice’ and autonomy in the workplace is positively associated with improved employee wellbeing according to a recent large-scale longitudinal study.

The government has therefore taken a small but significant step towards its commitment on good work for all. Given that most of us spend the majority of our lives at work, its quality is of vital importance. Measuring work quality at a national scale is one way of telling employers that just ‘any’ job isn’t good enough. Businesses that respond to this will not only get intangible benefits, e.g. improved reputation, but potentially enhanced productivity too – and a happier, healthier workforce. The benefits are not confined to businesses however; through good work everybody – government, employers and individuals – profits.

About the author

Dr James Chandler

Policy Advisor at the Work Foundation