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Stephen  Bevan

With the jobless total over 2.5m, why should we worry whether work is ‘good’ work?

Authors: Stephen Bevan Steven Bevan

08 November 2011

Since the publication in July of our Good Work Commission report ‘Good Work and Our Times’, the issue of business ethics, corporate responsibility and ‘good’ capitalism has been high on the agenda. 

The Leader of the Opposition, Ed Milliband used his party conference speech to highlight what he saw as an issue of business purpose and ethics and the ‘Occupy’ movement has sparked a debate about whether capitalism could be made to work better. Whether or not you agree with the specific arguments, the issue of the reputation and behaviour of business in the post- ‘credit crunch’ era is centre-stage once again. 

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 commissioned by The Work Foundation. 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 Good Work 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.

But with unemployment rising, and so many young people looking for their first opportunity in a very difficult labour market, are the calls for more ‘good’ work – where people have access to control, autonomy, an opportunity to derive meaning from their work and where they have a say in decisions which affect their future – just naïve and idealistic? With joblessness so high, isn’t any job a good job? Or should a sophisticated, knowledge-based economy like ours define its success according to the quality – not just the quantity – of the work we provide our ever more qualified workers?

It is this dilemma which will form part of our evening debate on Tuesday 22 November 2011, where we will be joined by Vicky Pryce (Senior Managing Director, FTI Consulting) and Katie Hopkins (business woman and former contestant on The Apprentice) to discuss the merits of Good Work or Any Work? in our current economic climate. We will be hosting a live Twitter feed during the event and invite you to share your opinions as the debaters put their cases forward. The hashtag #twfdebate will be available from Tuesday 15 November 2011 so you can follow us and comment in the build up to the debate too.

Since the financial crisis, some of our basic assumptions about how the economy works and the purpose and conduct of organisations have been challenged. The recession has 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 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)


09 Sep 2012 8:24PM

The Good Work Commissioners conclude that there is a business case for employers to invest in good work because it can be demonstrated to improve productivity