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Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive at the RSA and author of ‘Good Work. The Taylor Review of Modern Work Practices’, was a keynote speaker at our recent annual Conference. Richard Taylor provides a summary of his talk.

Matthew Taylor Talk Conference

The post-war social contract which assumed that working people would get better off year on year has been abandoned, observed Matthew Taylor in a presentation of his report.  As the title of his report ‘Good Work’ articulates, there is a need for a focus on the quality not just the quantity of work in the economy as part of a new social contract.

The theme of the report centres on the premise that we need to take the quality of work seriously.   There is public concern at the increase in part time and casual work, most of it low skilled and some on zero hours contracts.  There is also the growth of new platform-based forms of working (i.e. Uber, Deliveroo).

There are several arguments for a focus on ‘good work’:

*          methods of working should at least guarantee some form of dignity, along with scope for progression and fulfilment.

*          “Bad Work” can result in stress and anxiety which can ultimately lead to people dropping out of work

*          Aiming for better work can be part of how we solve our productivity puzzle; with UK workers around 25% less productive than our major competitors

*          Beyond gig work, technology is already having a huge impact on work, from robotics to AI and this impact is set to grow quickly. There are both potential upsides and downsides and to help us achieve the first and avoid the second we need to be committed to quality work.

*          The traditional concept of a master/servant relationship at work does not chime with our ideas of modern citizenship

In short, we need to take quality as seriously as quantity. However, clearly, people take jobs for different reasons with some people willing to sacrifice security for flexibility and the risks associated with this.  In discussing the concept of Good Work, we need to define what constitutes a Good Job. Key factors are:

–           the fairness of terms and conditions

–           flexibility

–           teams, supportive environment

–           autonomy

–           meaning and purpose

In looking at these areas it is clear that in some ways we are not even at the starting block as we have no means of quality of work measurement, which makes it particularly difficult to monitor quality changes in relation to patterns of work.  This makes it challenging to take into account the influence technology will have on different and better ways of working.

There is a widespread view that people are changing jobs more often.  Arguably the opposite is the case: people are not changing jobs often enough and low job mobility is linked to lower pay and productivity.

Despite the importance of regulation, the most important determinant of employees’ job satisfaction is the quality of management they experience. Many people – perhaps particularly young people – find the traditional hierarchical organisational model stifling. So an important part of the good work agenda is organisational innovation.

As we think about this one goal might be the development of more organisations that can, in the words of Charlie Leadbeater, be described as ‘creative communities with a cause’. These organisations manage to combine and continue to combine the three core human motivations: authority, belonging and autonomy, in powerful ways.

Building and sustaining these organisations is never easy so we need much more organisational innovation from which we can learn. In his book ‘Reinventing organisations’ Frederic Laloux described a range of organisations with highly innovative forms. Examples include the social care provider Buurtzorg which manages most domiciliary care in the Netherlands without any of the normal hierarchical bureaucracy we associate with large organisations and particularly with public services.

But these kinds of new forms are hard to sustain partly because they can become a little purist and inward looking but also because it’s harder to thrive being so different when the wide ecology in which you operate is still geared to more traditional forms of authority and criteria of effectiveness.

In conclusion, we must continue to explore what we think constitutes ‘good work’.  However, implementing it is a major challenge. This challenge is about policy and regulation, but it is also about the way organisations operate. The discipline of organisational psychology can and should make a major contribution to thinking through what kinds of organisations we need, to allow every job to be a good job.


RT October 2018

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