The rapidly changing world of work can be viewed through so many different lenses. Some of us have benefited from ‘taking control’ of our working lives but many others feel they have lost control over when and how they work. Yet everyone agrees that the pace of change is only going to get quicker, with growing threats to pay and security.
The challenge therefore for the new independent review of modern employment chaired by the RSA’s Matthew Taylor is to come up with recommendations that will stand the test of time, not just in this Parliament but for at least the next two decades. It ties in nicely with the RSA’s own research into making the gigging economy work.
The review also has to take into account the other major trends in our society – from an ageing population to globalisation and migration via digitalisation – all of which are impacting on work too.
Our ageing society means that for the first time there are four generations in many workplaces. Each generation has a different style of working and different aspirations. Some are more formal and hierarchical, others want freedom over when and how they do their job. Technology is either a liberator or another tool of management control.
Creating multi-generational workplaces where people of all ages can work together productively should be common sense. There is much that different generations can share and learn from each other. Modern employers should see this as part of making themselves an ‘employer of choice’. It’s about adopting a new mindset, as many have done on work-life balance.
The new flexibility of work should be good news for those who want to be able to work from home, but it doesn’t always work out like that.
Those with caring responsibilities often can’t find flexible care that matches their flexible work. With a few exceptions, the provision of childcare has not really moved on from the standard model of 8am-6pm opening and care can’t be booked by the hour. For the increasing number of those who need help with elder/adult care, it’s even harder. Many grandparents want to both care and work but still too many employers don’t provide flexible working for their older staff.
People’s ability to benefit from modern employment depends on access to basic infrastructure such as care. Connectivity is also key. There are still large parts of the country that have inadequate broadband and mobile phone coverage, plus poor public transport and post offices closing. The sharing economy doesn’t seem to have reached this far despite the opportunities. That’s why Taylor’s review needs to look beyond London and our great cities, to the rural and coastal areas where so many new enterprises are based.
Work needs to become much more of a level playing field for all ages. Why should the under 25s get paid less for doing the same job as older workers, and why should those of pension age who continue to work not pay national insurance?
Similarly employers need to respect the national living wage, including for example travel time between clients for homecarers. Training and the updating of skills should be part of an employer’s responsibility. And if you choose to work as a freelancer/consultant, then you too must share that responsibility.
The other big challenge for Taylor’s review is how to make its recommendations work in our increasingly fragmented world. Legislation will no doubt be needed but many of our traditional employment organisations, from the trade unions to chambers of commerce, are currently not playing a role in this new world of work.
Interestingly the Labour Party is also seeking ideas for its Workplace 2020 discussion which is focusing on low pay and job insecurity. The race is on to make life better for those ‘just managing’.
Stephen Burke FRSA is director of United for All Ages