A new era of Good Work

Work can and should be a force for good, but the CIPD’s Good Work Index 2021 shows that job quality still falls short in a number of areas. Issues like lack of work-life balance, lack of development and high workloads are a real cause for concern. And for many, some of these concerns have been exacerbated with the challenges all businesses have faced through the pandemic. 

We must build back with better jobs, not just more jobs 

Job quality was rising up the agenda before the pandemic, following Matthew Taylor’s Review of Modern Working Practices in 2017 and integration in to wider industrial strategy and many national and regional initiatives. The CIPD’s own annual snapshot of job quality in the UK and our promotion of the good work principles have also played their part, and there was the promise of the Employment Bill in 2019.  But there’s a danger that we are losing momentum. The Industrial Strategy Council has been wound up, and we’re concerned that the Employment Bill and associated reforms – including new rights for workers with variable hours to request more stability, and paid neonatal care, amongst other important changes – has stalled. Now is not the time to take our eyes off the ball. As we build back from the pandemic and work towards economic recovery, our focus must be on not just more jobs, but jobs that are good for people and for our economies. 

With a quarter of UK workers saying work is bad for their physical and mental health (23% and 25% respectively), we must do more to make our workplaces healthy and productive. Employee health and wellbeing has rightly taken centre stage during the pandemic, and this focus needs to continue in the coming months and years.  

Trade-offs and inequalities needn’t be inevitable 

Our Good Work Index highlights inequalities and trade-offs in job quality, but these need not be inevitable. We know there are real inequalities in job quality across occupations, with higher managerial and professional roles faring better than those in lower routine and manual roles.  The pandemic has exacerbated some of these inequalities and trade-offs, with remote working being a good example.  

Our data shows that remote workers (also predominately those in higher occupational groups) tend to fare better on most aspects of job design, such as having autonomy and opportunities to develop their skills. But they struggle with high workload and maintaining work life balance is also challenging (for example 29% of those working from home all the time say they find it difficult to relax in their personal time because of work, compared to 19% of those not working remotely). This was the case before the pandemic, but remote working can create additional workload and work–life balance challenges.  

On the flip side, those working in lower occupational groups tend to fare slightly better on workload and maintaining work–life balance, but lack opportunities for skills development and tend to fare worse on other aspects of job design, like autonomy. These occupational groups were less likely to be able to work from home and also more likely to be furloughed and, not surprisingly therefore, also concerned about job security.  

Some may feel forgoing a better work–life balance is a trade-off worth making for good job design – and often higher pay. But we should challenge the idea that these trade-offs are inevitable – they negatively impact wellbeing, and there’s clearly a need to rethink how work is distributed, with some workers with too high a workload, and others facing job insecurity.  

Skills development plays a key role here, as does creative job design. Not only should we make existing roles better where we can, it’s essential that organisations invest in skills development and give workers the opportunity to develop new skills. With the likely shifts of jobs across sectors, as some sectors flourish in the changing economic climate and others struggle, we must also focus greater attention on national programs for skills development and lifelong learning to improve everyone’s chances of finding better work in a challenging and rapidly changing labour market.  

All jobs can be better, and it’s time to challenge the status quo 

Employers have a vital role to play; they need to put their money with their mouth is when they say ‘people are our greatest asset’, and invest in good quality, progressive people management practices. While not all jobs can be great jobs, all jobs can be better, with creative job design and investment in HR and line manager capability. We have learned a lot through the pandemic and overall engagement scores have improved in many organisations. There’s also been a welcome focus on wellbeing and duties of care as we all had to put people more front and centre in our thinking. We are seeing new ways in which we can work, and hybrid working models and greater choice and flexibility are becoming a real expectation in what we can build back better. 

A new era of good work will require employers and people professionals to be bold and challenge the status quo. We need to rethink job quality in all its dimensions across the entire organisation, putting better work at the heart of strategic thinking and people at the forefront of business agendas.


For more discussion and analysis on job quality, based on insights from the CIPD Good Work Index, read this blog post or join the discussion on our community:

A calm before the storm? Why hasn't job quality changed drastically in the wake of the pandemic?

Have people management practices helped orgs weather the challenges?

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