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Stephen  Bevan

The Good Work Commission

Authors: Stephen Bevan Stephen Bevan

04 July 2011

For the last two years The Work Foundation has been providing the secretariat to the Good Work Commission which, under the skilful Chairmanship of Alan Parker, CEO of Brunswick, has been exploring the relevance of the concept to Good Work to business, to employees and to wider society in the post recession era. At its core, the intention of the Commission was to help people and organisations to understand how to provide more ‘good work’ at a time when working life has become more intense, more routine and less secure. How can the principles and benefits of ‘good work’ be embraced at a time of globalisation and technological perturbation? Should people out of work just accept that ‘good work’ is permanently out of their reach?

The Commissioners included our own Will Hutton, John Hannet (Usdaw) and Jim McAuslan (Balpa) together with Richard Chartres (Bishop of London), John Varley (Barclays), Adam Crozier (ITV), Peter Sands & Tracey Clarke (Standard Chartered), Andy Bond (Asda), Clare Chapman (NHS), Sir Peter Housden (Scottish Government), Kim Winser (Agent Provocateur) and Carolyn Gray (Guardian Media Group). With support from several Work Foundation colleagues we scrutinised and debated the latest evidence and thinking on issues such as leadership, employee engagement, ownership, reward and the employment relationship. The final report of the Commission was published today and among all of its insights and challenges there are three compelling challenges for employers which stand out.

First improving ‘employee engagement’ might be a priority for many businesses but doing so successfully unless they can reconnect all their employees to a simple, compelling and authentic message about the purpose of the organisation. Without this there is nothing to get ‘engaged’ with and almost no hope of employees being able to derive a strong sense of meaning from their work. Given recent events, this is a tough challenge, but it must be attempted if the ‘Deal’ with employees is to be robust and believable.

Second, we need both in businesses and in wider society to respond decisively to the strong desire which people have for fairness and transparency in business, in the distribution of rewards and in our interpersonal dealings at work. This really does not mean making sure nobody is paid more than the Prime Minister, or naming and shaming local councils for spending money on staff development. It means involving employees in decisions which affect their future.

Third, the way that many firms have reacted to the downturn - by using short-time working, engaging authentic dialogue with staff and in cutting mature and imaginative deals with their unions to protect jobs and keep businesses going – has been uplifting and instructive. Under such pressure, the apparently bankrupt and outmoded world of employee relations has shown itself to be capable of innovation, energy and decisiveness.

These concerns about the reputation of business are echoed in some of the findings from a YouGov survey of a representative sample of almost 1,700 British workers. For example:

•    Only four in ten British employees believe that their bosses act with integrity
•    Almost half of British employees feel that the level of trust between management and employees has got worse in the last year

Nonetheless, the survey indicates that in many respects, some – but by no means all - British employees get access to many of the core aspects of good work:

•    Almost two-thirds feel they are trusted to do a good job
•    Almost two-thirds say they have a lot of control over how they do their job
•    Six out of ten say that their job gives them the chance to help other people
•    63% say that their job is ‘very worthwhile’
•    Six in ten say that doing a job which is useful to society is very important to them

The Commissioners conclude that there is a business case for employers to invest in good work because it can be demonstrated to improve productivity, employee retention and customer satisfaction. The challenge for UK businesses, they argue, is to create more good work to meet the needs of an increasingly demanding and more highly educated workforce.

Since the financial crisis, some of our basic assumptions about how the economy works and the purpose and conduct of organisations have been shaken. There are immediate economic consequences of the credit crunch and recession, which are visible in higher levels of business failure and unemployment across all developed economies, along with severe cuts in public spending, rising taxes GDP which is flat-lining. But the significance of the crisis in relation to the workplace reaches still further than that. It has also exposed issues of business purpose and leadership, and of morality, transparency and trust. It’s not too dramatic to say that the values of work are in the dock. The Good Work Commission has tackled these issues head on, and it’s now up to senior leaders to do what they can to generate more Good Work as the recovery takes hold.


Comments in Chronological Order (Total 1 Comments)

Eugene Gant

05 Jul 2011 10:34AM

Why will business leaders take any of these ideas seriously when they have conspicuously failed to do so in the past? Members of the Good Work Commission (eg. Barclays) seem to be examples of appalling practice in executive remuneration - Bob Diamond's salary anyone? This is all very disappointing.