The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices has become a cornerstone for a renewed focus on job quality within the UK. Even if, for some odd reason, you have been actively seeking to lower your job quality in the past couple of years, you will have been hard pressed to avoid hearing about the report after it was published in 2017. Now that the review has ended, and the Government have provided their response, Matthew Taylor has urged that the good work agenda needs to move up a gear in order to bring about the cascade of positive changes for society that are possible by increasing job quality. What needs to happen next? Where does it need to happen? How can you play a part?
Firstly, if you did miss the Taylor Review because you love that ‘I could be fired any moment now’ feeling, it might nevertheless help to have a quick overview. Matthew Taylor (Chief Executive of the RSA) and his team presented 53 recommendations to the Government covering key areas of job quality including atypical forms of work contract such as involuntary freelancing and self-employment, the ‘gig’ economy, and the impact of ‘disruptive’ business models and technologies.
Job quality indicators and measurement tools are already discussed through the World Health Organisation, the International Labour Organisation, the RSA/Carnegie UK, as well as a wide range of academic scholars and institutions. The CIPD published their own report in 2018 which sought to bring together the lessons from across these tools, culminating in six key indicators; pay and other rewards, intrinsic characteristics of work, terms of employment, health and safety, work-life balance, and representation and voice.
Prior to the Taylor Review on Modern Working Practices, job quality was confined to its position below job quantity where getting people back to work was the main goal post-2008. The UK now basks in the highest employment rate since records began in 1971, with 32.5 million adults aged 16-64 in work as of the end of 2018 (ONS, 2018). Yet, the post-recession slump in productivity (17% lower than if it followed the pre-recession trend) is a concern, coupled with a slowing in real wage growth from early 2017, as well as a regional imbalance in unemployment rates (5.5% in the North East compared with 3.2% in the South East).
Nottingham and the East Midlands are no exception to this imbalance, if anything these areas represent a particularly acute case. Nottingham Civic Exchange (NCE) has shown in its latest publication that in 2017, Nottingham experienced its highest level of economic inactivity (people who are neither in paid work nor actively looking for employment) in more than a decade, surpassing even the levels experienced during the recession. Moreover, although Nottingham has the highest levels of wealth production per head in the East Midlands (and the 4th highest amongst England’s 8 large ‘Core Cities’, despite Nottingham having the smallest population), it has the lowest household income compared to anywhere else in the UK and experienced a significant fall in employment between 2015 and 2017 that has not been experienced by other cities of comparable size.
In Nottingham, we have seen 136,000 economically active residents (employed plus unemployed) in 2007 and 136,800 in 2017. This small increase fell well below the rate of population growth, resulting in an overall fall in Nottingham’s rate of economic activity from 67.7% in 2007 to 62.4% in 2017, which increased the gap with the UK rate from 8.7 percentage points in 2007 to 15.8 percentage points in 2017 (the largest gap in the decade).
The Nottingham Civic Exchange in cooperation with Nottingham Business School (NBS) and the University of Birmingham are focussing on addressing some of these issues by, first, understanding what good work means for the people of Nottingham, and the East Midlands more generally. Building this picture can help to move forward with concrete approaches to tackling some of these issues on a city-wide scale. As good work permeates different levels of society, creating a good work model for a city needs to tackle these issues from various angles. This includes at the individual and community level; NCE are conversing with individuals and community groups (particularly Nottingham Citizens Work and Wages Campaign) about their experiences in low job quality environments. Importantly, NCE are connecting these low job quality experiences with the struggles that this can cause in daily life such as the inflexibility of work places to allow parents to leave for appointments with their child, or how low job security impacts upon levels of anxiety. At the organisational level, NCE and NBS (particularly the Centre for People, Work, and Organisational Practice, CPWOP) are working on a program of research focussing on how companies can adopt procedures and create environments which stimulate high quality work.
As mentioned before, the Taylor review was useful to spread the word about making job quality equal with job quantity on a society wide scale. Yet, it’s harder to think about how at a personal level, you can make any changes to the quality of your job or the jobs of your colleagues. Whilst many of the changes required are structural, and it’s important not to place blame on the individual in many cases. Putting job quality on the agenda in your workplace can help to keep the momentum of this nationwide conversation. Make it explicit, bring it up at the lunch table when your colleague is talking to you about stress, take part in workshops and discussions run with the Nottingham Civic Exchange…this one is a bit forward sorry. Forthcoming sessions include ‘Designing work that makes us healthy and happy’ on the 8th May as well as ‘Making bad work good’ on the 8th July. Nottingham Civic Exchange are very keen to hear from practitioners themselves as part of these discussions so please feel free to come along.
We have a real opportunity here to further develop a positive attitude towards job quality in Nottingham and the East Midlands which the rest of the country can learn from and adapt in their own ways. We can do this by pushing for and supporting structural change, developing research and practice informed procedures within our own organisations, and have renewed conversations about the role of work in our lives as individuals and communities. No other region in the UK has such a dedicated programme of research and conversation on good work. The Taylor review is complete, so let’s get to (good) work.
This article was based upon work from a recently published report by the Nottingham Civic Exchange on laying the foundations of a good work city. More information can be found at https://www.ntu.ac.uk/goodworknotts. You can join the conversation using #GoodWorkNotts or by attending our upcoming events in May and July.