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What does good work mean for you?

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I’m leading the Review of Modern Employment for UK Government and I am determined that the Review will be bold and offer a comprehensive strategy for a better work future.

I decided early on that tackling exploitation, confusion and perverse incentives in work would only be likely if we all care as much about the quality of employment as about its quantity.

Good work is something the RSA cares about deeply.

We need a good work economy because

  1. Most people in poverty are already in work.

  2. Bad work is bad for people’s health and wellbeing

  3. Bad work is more likely to be low productivity work and thus bad for the economy

  4. Automation will impact the future of work 

  5. Bad work – with no choice or voice for workers – just feels wrong in 2017

But if good work for all is to become a reality, I need to show that there is strong support in civil society and the wider public for this goal.

The RSA wants you to talk about what good work means to you.

We have a few weeks to persuade whoever wins the next election that good work matters.

Post a video on Facebook or Twitter using #GoodWorkIs to tell us what good work means for you

Or comment below to share your conversation about good work

Join the discussion

77 Comments

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  • Applying diligence and integrity to work related tasks and activities that are rewarded by bringing a tangible sense of achievement to both the worker and the entity that engaged the worker. The achievements - whatever they are (financial or otherwise) and however they might be measured - should be mutually recognised, acknowledged and respected by both parties in order for the work to be 'good work'. Also both the actual process itself, as well as the end result of a task, activity or series of activities, must bring a sense of achievement to all those involved.

  • As we saw on London 2012, and generally on major construction projects, one of the crucial aspects of "good work" is that it is well designed and managed so that workers are not exposed to risks of accidents or to health-harming agents.  Construction historically has a poor track record of silicosis, back strain injuries and many other "slow accidents" as well as the more obvious injuries from accidents on site.  Good work means that people have to be participants in looking after their health at work, and the starter for 10 is that the work itself doesn't cause ill health.  This doesn't mean an army of health and safety "police", but proper arrangements to design the workplace and the work activities so that they contribute to general well-being and certainly don't put it at risk.  This applies not only to construction, of course, but to all workplaces.  So the starting point for me is making sure that "good work" means that it definitely isn't "bad work" from a health, safety and well-being viewpoint - risks identified and managed effectively, in full consultation with the workers who would otherwise be exposed to those risks.

  • Good work - a strange descriptor - is only possible if managers enable others to perform accordingly. In isolation, many individuals are unable to enjoy the 'benefits' of 'good work', assuming, of course, that we have an understanding of what 'good work' is - which has not been adequately addressed in Taylor's video! First of all, without a common understanding of what good work is, how can we move forward?


    However, using my opening sentence as a starting point, I can remember a time when I was indeed enabled to perform good work. I measured this by the success - in its widest sense - of how my students performed at college, on graduation and subsequently. However, this good work was eventually seriously undermined by the introduction of so-called quality standards, which, in effect, became nothing more than a tick box exercise, preceded by pointless documentation production that no one read because no one, off record, supported the process. Over time, the purpose or commitment to good work became almost irrelevant or secondary - even tertiary - to the so-called quality assurance process. The net effect was a decline in moral and, more importantly, a decline in the commitment to the students education by, in particular, senior managers. I could go on...

    In further and higher education an individual lecturer's voice - the workers voice - is now less attainable than it was thirty or more years ago! If anything, bad work, as implied above, is now the norm rather than the exception (and here I'm referring specifically to FE and HE). The individual 'worker' is unable to influence change, for reasons that should be obvious, not the least the increasing gulf between those on the 'shop floor' and those in senior management. Whilst the worker, albeit performing bad work, can still pay his or her mortgage, those who suffer from the lack of coporate commitment to good work are, inevitably, the students.

    It might be considered by some that I've missed the point of this 'initiative', but until there is a clearer and universally accepted understanding of what good work is, how can we proceed? I await with interest how this debate within the RSA proceeds... 

  • Good Work gives me a sense of achievement and self esteem.  Good Work does not necessarily mean doing something good for society overall, but it helps. Someone dealing drugs can feel as though the have done Good Work to gain money to support their family but have a nagging guilt that their actions may harm others.

  • Good work is when I am using my skills to do something that I feel will make a difference; working with people who I trust and respect and who believe in me; having control over what I do and being judged on the things that actually matter; having fun and learning something new, involves physical movement, leaves enough energy to be a mother and look after my dad.  

    • Abigail, May I quote you? This is a good snapshot definition (and benchmark) that most people would want to indentify with. I think it's positive and achievable. It fits in with David Winter's VISTA approach to career development. This replaces the inappropriate SMART acronym that many career writers try to apply to career development. David Winter is a British career development practitioner and career thought leader who has greatly influenced how I think about 'career stuff'.


      Over my (fairly long!) career, when I've been able to tick the boxes on your definition, I've been very happy, and when not ... then not. 


      When I say, 'May I quote you?' I mean it literally. I'm doing the printer's proof of my second book on employability and would like to have your definition in it. I could just say an 'RSA member' if you'd feel more comfortable. The book is coming out in Australia, so nobody in the UK will ever read it!! I go through some effort to acknowledge the sources of my content and have mentioned several of my colleagues in the text already, and would be delighted to credit you with the definition ... if you would like that. Just a suggestion.

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