On 8th February, IPA will be launching our report on Good Work, to coincide with the government's response to the Taylor Review. This publication draws together 16 expert perspectives on what good work means, why it matters and how to bring it about. The introduction and summary of the report are previewed below. The report will be launched at a special event on 8th February - details here.


We open this report with a simple question: is our current world of employment ‘working well’ for the UK’s 32 million workers? Certainly the number of jobs available has increased consistently over recent years and current low unemployment levels are to be welcomed. But increasingly attention is being turned to the quality of that work, not just the quantity of it.

In the 21st century, we recognise that it is not enough for a job to simply provide us with a source of income. Workers deserve jobs that also give them a reason to look forward to going to work in the morning, or at least not to actively dread it. Work is a huge and important component of everyday life for the majority of people for the majority of their existence. It is therefore obvious that working well is a vital ingredient for living well. If we want good lives, we need good work.

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, accurately summed up the importance of good work at the launch of Matthew Taylor’s Review of Modern Working Practices last year:

“The nature of employment is central both to our national economic success, but also to the lives we all lead. From the end of our childhoods until the years of retirement, if we don’t win the National Lottery jackpot, the vast majority of us will expect to devote at least half of our waking hours, on most days of the week, to work. A good job can be a genuine vocation, providing intellectual and personal fulfilment, as well as economic security. With good work can come dignity and a sense of self-worth. It can promote good mental and physical health, and emotional well-being.”

Of course, the converse is sadly also all too true. Despite the genuine success of recent years in increasing the number of workers in employment, for too many of those workers in the UK, work can often be unfulfilling, insecure and poorly paid. Rather than enjoying dignity and self-worth, some workers are unvalued and ignored at best, or at worst endure degrading or bullying treatment throughout the day. Just as good work can promote good mental and physical health, so bad work can lead to poor mental and physical health.

The pursuit of good work, however, is not solely about a moral quest to improve the quality of life of working men and women – though it certainly is that. But it also has real consequences for employers themselves, and for wider society. This report is not the first to make the link between work quality and productivity, nor the connection to the ability of firms to recruit and retain skilled staff, though both of those are explored over the following pages. Likewise there is a huge need to restore confidence and trust in British businesses after a number of recent scandals, something which a focus on good work can only help with.

But what is it that makes for a good job with a good employer? Is it possible to have a bad job with a good employer, or even a good job with a bad employer? And might something that seems like a good job to one worker look like a bad job for another?

The conclusions of the Matthew Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices last year made a major contribution to both addressing some of these questions, through its assessment of the foundations of quality work, but also in bringing attention to and stimulating a wider national debate into the subject of good work. The aim of this paper is to further that debate, with the inclusion of sixteen varied viewpoints from prominent individuals including academics, employers, trade unionists, policymakers and others.

All of the following chapters have their own unique and valuable points to make, about the definitions and measurements of good work, arguments for why it matters, and thoughts on how to bring it about. What they all have in common, however, is a common commitment to working towards the ambition outlined by Matthew Taylor and endorsed by the Prime Minister last year, of ensuring that in future “all work is fair and decent.”



Jonny Gifford, Senior Advisor - Organisational Behaviour at CIPD opens the first chapter with a call to focus attention on measuring different aspects of good work and defining what we mean by the phrase. He outlines seven key dimensions of job quality, several of which are explored in more detail in the later chapters, notably meaningfulness (Chapter 4), pay, (Chapter 11), terms of employment (Chapter 13) and voice (Chapters 9 & 14).

Petra Wilton, Director of Strategy at CMI makes the case for a greater focus on management skills to address one of the underlying causes of a poor workplace experience. She points to the need to tackle the large proportion of ‘accidental managers’ in the UK who lack the training and ability necessary to foster positive working environments through building inclusive teams and restoring trust with the workforce.

Liz Banks, Director of Communications & Research at the REC writes about the importance of work quality in assisting with recruitment and retention of skilled staff and the need for employers to focus more on ensuring they advertise the good aspects of jobs to attract the talent they need. She also makes the point that temporary work can also be good work and outlines what is needed to make it happen.

Katie Bailey, Professor of Work and Employment at KCL discusses the concept of finding meaning in work. Drawing on her own research in this area, she explains how meaningfulness is created, why it is important and what organisations can do to foster it without trying to mandate or manipulate employees into a form of ‘existential labour’.

Neil Carberry, Managing Director of People & Infrastructure at the CBI talks about the importance of restoring trust in UK businesses through a renewed focus on the everyday experiences of the workforce. He makes a persuasive argument for why business leaders should take action and adopt a new long-term approach to managing, developing and engaging their people, or risk falling behind in a changing world.

Christina McAnea, Head of Health at UNISON describes the challenges facing the 1.5 million workers in the frontline adult care sector in the UK. Despite a strong sense of purpose and meaning in their work, pay and conditions are so poor for many workers in the sector that they could not be described as enjoying good work, and retention levels suffer as a result. Christina outlines an alternative approach based around UNISON’s ethical care charter, which may offer a better model for workers in this sector.

Sir Brendan Barber, Chair of Acas draws on 40 years of Acas insights into workplaces to build up a picture of what everyday good work looks like for employees and the key factors in enabling it. He points to the importance of clarity in the working relationship, having trusted procedures to address concerns, a healthy respect for work-life balance, voice, fair and transparent pay structures, a work environment that is conducive to both physical and mental wellbeing and a positive approach to diversity and inclusion.

Niall Ryan-Jones, Head of Employee Experience at Harrods writes from an employer’s perspective about the connections they have made between good work for their employees and good customer service. By adopting new approaches to their employees’ engagement and work experience based on their customer relationship management practices, they have seen major improvements to their turnover, absenteeism, sales and customer satisfaction ratings.

Janet Williamson, Senior policy officer at the TUC presents the case for employee voice and representation as one of the key pillars of what makes for a good job. As well as being valuable in its own right, individual and particularly collective voice and consultation also supports and enables many of the other aspects of good work such as higher wages, better work-life balance, better and safer working conditions, more skills and training and a healthier workplace culture with reduced bullying.

Dan Warne, Managing Director of Deliveroo UK discusses Deliveroo’s vision of what makes for good work in the on-demand economy. As well as the need for fair pay for hours worked, active engagement and a meaningful voice at work, this also involves finding the right approach to managing the trade-off between flexibility and security that characterises the sector.

Stefan Stern, Director of the High Pay Centre sets out the link between good pay and good work and explains how paying workers a good wage would benefit not only their wellbeing, but the success of their employers. He counters the argument that this also justifies current levels of executive pay in Britain and instead makes a powerful case for the need for greater fairness in pay levels across the board.

Dean Royles, Director of HR at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust outlines the ways in which the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are reshaping work within the public sector and the need to make sure that they are being used to improve the quality of work rather than intensify work. He talks about the need for employers to role model good digital behaviours, seek the views of staff and focus on the sense of community, while embracing the opportunities offered by AI and other technologies.

Diane Gilhooley, Global Head of Employment and Pensions at Eversheds Sutherland lays out the various ways in which the legal environment supports and defines work and good work. She explains the law around employment status as it stands and proposals for reform under consideration, as well as the importance of clear contracts and rights in supporting good work. She also discusses the responsibility of employers to ensure good work not only for their own employees, but throughout their supply chains.

Stuart Innes, Vivo Principal Officer at Standard Life describes the way in which Standard Life has used its staff association, Vivo, to establish an effective system that provides employees with an informed, collective voice. He explains the key principles that underlie the success of their approach and how it helps to provide one of the key pillars needed for a good work experience.

Tony Danker and Jessica Northend, Chief Executive and Corporate Affairs Director of Be the Business together set out the scale and background of the productivity challenge that is facing the UK economy. They write about the case for stronger business leadership in the UK to address this and the need for both ‘will’ and ‘skill’ to embark on the journey towards better management, something which can lead to both better productivity for firms and better jobs for workers.

Juani Swart, Professor in Human Capital Management and David Cross, Research Associate at University of Bath School of Management conclude this report with a look towards the future and how changing technology might cause us to re-evaluate what we think about work. They ask the big questions about the future of work – might AI and automation replace human labour for many or most tasks? Will there be any obligation for humans to work at all? Or are there still aspects of human work that are worth valuing and preserving in such a world?

We hope that readers find this publication both interesting and enlightening. Most of all, however, we hope that the ideas and opinions from these sixteen valuable perspectives help to push forward the ongoing debate around good work in the UK, the case for why it matters, and how the vision of good work outlined in the Taylor Review can ultimately be realised. If that debate leads to genuine improvements in the daily working conditions of just some of the UK’s 32 million workers, that would be doing good work indeed.

Patrick Brione, IPA Head of Policy & Research

Nita Clarke OBE, IPA Director