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The way ahead is a world of healthy jobs

The way ahead is a world of healthy jobs

Chris Warhurst, Warwick Institute for Employment Research, Warwick

Most people spend an inordinate amount of time at work – paid and otherwise. In many ways it defines our being – it pays for our homes and holidays, it can be the source of deep friendships and personal satisfaction. Without it many people live in material, psychological and social poverty.

But work can also be a major source of dissatisfaction and frustration. Given its importance, it’s a public service, if not duty, to find out how work can be improved to deliver positive outcomes and turn material, psychological and social poverty into material, psychological and social wellbeing.

In various guises, this has been a career-long focus for me - always being aware that work could be organised better to have better outcomes for employees and employers. Over the years, that awareness has morphed into a realisation that there’s also a need to make work better. For example, having employees whose skills and knowledge are under-used in their work is frustrating for those employees but it also represents untapped potential for employers at a time when some governments are worried about relatively poor productivity and innovation performance.

There’s a need to enhance the scientific base about what needs improving, why and how. The upshot is the push for more and better research – a role taken up with real vim and vigour by my staff in the Warwick Institute for Employment Research (IER). That scientific base also has to be multi-disciplinary. On a personal level I’d like to work with colleagues to develop a grand theory of job quality and create a world of healthy jobs.

We have to generate new research ideas and develop new research methods to help solve what seem now to be the big intractable challenges in improving work. Currently IER has a team working on the application of Big Data to help better understand work and labour markets, and we’re using that method to support government policy development, for example in encouraging more green jobs in response to the climate emergency.

We need to better translate our research into something that can be quickly understood by politicians and the public. Our work is already having that kind of impact, with the establishment of a measure of Good Work for use by the UK Government and a new occupational classification of green jobs for Scotland called GreenSOC.

IER was founded at Warwick 40 years ago by a group of researchers who genuinely wanted to make a difference to government policy. That’s still our position. And we’re right to have adopted it. Over time the world has turned our way. Since its establishment IER has become a leading centre in Europe for research of work and labour markets, and is the only one of its kind in the UK university sector to have external accreditation for the quality of its research services.

I do believe that science can help improve jobs for the better. We just need to generate that science and apply it and get those who shape jobs – for example, government, employers and trade unions – to listen and understand what might be achieved through the use of sound science in this field.


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