From pay to pensions, work is returning to the political front-line. This project, continuing the work reported in Reinventing the Firm and co-written by John Knell, will investigate changes in work trends, including the polarisation of work in terms of the gap between good and bad jobs, and the increasing regional concentration of labour market and economic opportunity. It will also examine the impact of the current major rebalancing of the public finances on the relationship between the Government, public sector employers and public sector unions.
Our economy is at a critical juncture, and so are our dominant working and employment practices. The economic boom years of New Labour have collapsed into recession, and the new Government must confront any latent inadequacies in the British business model that might have been disguised in recent years through easy credit, a growing public sector, and a softening of employment relations. While one system of industrial relations was abandoned during the 1980s, during the boom there was little concern to install a new one in its place.
Employees have already proved highly adaptable through the recession – accepting pay freezes and short time working to enable firms to preserve their employees and reducing the flows into unemployment. The OECD has recognised that active labour market policies in the UK appear to have taken the worst edge off unemployment, at least during the recession itself. But calls for employee restraint are not about to end.
The Coalition Government has placed the ‘Big Society’ at the centre of its vision of Britain's social progress. Demos’ research will challenge the assumption that these are phenomena that only exist outside of the realms of business, workplaces and markets. Much of what people bring to voluntary association – enthusiasm, ideas, commitment – they could potentially bring to work, were it configured differently. Equally, much of what people gain from voluntary association – friends, social identity, psychological support – they could potentially gain from workplaces.
The project will explore the possibilities for a new politics of work. Will greater voice become a reality? Will new organisational structures grow? Could engagement be achieved through a more grown-up dialogue in the workplace? How can organisations better respond to the clear evidence that people are happiest and most productive when they feel they are working for a larger purpose that they not only understand, but can contribute to and be recognised for doing so? How will employees, and their representatives, respond to the new reality?
Using future scenario planning, this report maps out the possible paths the UK’s relationship to work could take over the next few years. In each case, we use a different macro-economic and political backdrop, and speculate what cultural and organisational possibilities and opportunities this might generate, resulting in policy recommendations on how best to improve working practices.
For more information on our research into the future of work, contact Will Davies.