Work Foundation calls for fundamental change in how we manage people at work to secure future economic success

The Work Foundation team at their centenary event

After 100 years of advancing improvements in working conditions and championing Good Work for all, the Work Foundation is calling for a step change in how we manage people to finally turn around the UK’s productivity and achieve national success.

The organisation is developing a new strategy and setting out a call to action to take into the future, working with its partners.

“There is much to learn from previous waves of Industrial Revolutions, where the global position and performance of the UK was inspired by a human desire for progress and an explosion of scientific discovery, innovation and technological inventions,” Work Foundation Director Lesley Giles said.

At an event to mark the end of its 100th-year-birthday celebrations, key senior figures from across business, Government, trade unions and the third sector came together to recognise achievements of the past and see which lessons can be applied to the modern economy to make a difference to today’s thorny and persistent employment and economic challenges.

The Work Foundation specialises in understanding changes in the world of work to bring practical improvements to workplaces and champion good working practices. It has been doing so for 100 years, from its origins following the First World War, through to today.

“Good Work has recently achieved much policy attention, especially following the Taylor review, and the Government has established a Good Work Plan,” said Lesley Giles, who opened and closed the centenary event at the Victory Services Club, in London. “But we still have a long tail of businesses with poor productivity, wide variation in management practices and – as a result – we are not seeing an acceleration in Good Work which allows people to really shine.”

Work Foundation Director Lesley Giles addresses the centenary event at the Victory Services Club in London

She added: “While many things have changed over the past century, the Work Foundation’s goal remains the same – to create happier, healthier and safer working environments. Future success in the economy depends on the talents of people and the workforce - good work is key to human creativity and workplace innovation.

“We want to explore how we can unlock the power of people's talents to drive a more competitive and inclusive economy over the next 100 years. We all recognise the importance of creating more good work in a modern economy throughout the 21st century. Now, let’s pool knowledge about how to achieve it.

“Good management practices that drive good work are vital to resolving the employment challenges we face both today and tomorrow - good work prioritises human ingenuity. We face protracted productivity problems in the UK, and questions around management result in workplace issues that are inhibiting the effective use of people; in-work poverty and under-employment are increasing, with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer; job polarisation is inhibiting progression; there are skills shortages and gaps; and as the health of the workforce, diminishes, this further undermines performance.

“We can look at all of these issues and how to address them, learning from our past, and draw on partnerships with long-established networks, a strong heritage and deep expertise, to find enduring solutions that work. There are common threads from the past that offer insight for the future.

“We will set out a forward-looking plan of action. We want to review what the priorities should be within the workplace moving forward, and how we are going to make a practical difference in putting these issues right.

“Progress on these challenging issues can only be made in partnership between business, government, trade unions and practitioners. Everyone must work together, sharing resources and expertise, to tackle the real problems of today and tomorrow and advance Good Work for all.

“There are no silver bullets or quick wins, but there are vital, solid steps that can be taken.”

The centenary event, featuring opening addresses from ACAS chairman Sir Brendan Barber; Nigel Whitehead, Chief Technology Officer at BAE Systems; and Perry Timms, founder of PTHR Ltd, focused on the four key principles, essential to delivering a future strategy that can make a difference.

Panels including Tony Danker, CEO of Be the Business; Matthew Fell, Chief UK Policy Director at the CBI; and Dr Rannia Leontaridi, Director of Business Growth at the government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy discussed the way forward.

  •  DYNAMISM: Incentivising more businesses to adopt people-centred management practices that create a climate working through people for inquiry, doing things better, and supporting continuous improvement, to enhance productivity.
  • RESILIENCE: In the face of ongoing disruptive forces of change, enhancing resilience at work is vital, supporting lifelong learning and ensuring the workforce is well placed to adapt to the future.
  • PARTNERSHIP: Complex problems in a modern economy require stronger, active partnerships where challenges are shared and enduring solutions are co-designed and co-produced by Government, business and civil society working together. There is also a need to develop a model for socially responsible corporate leadership.
  • FAIRNESS: With deep divides within society, a new economic model that focuses on creating wealth for all segments of society and targets investment where it is needed to those people/places left behind must be embraced.

“We will continue to do our part to push the benefits of people centred practices and to reinvent what Good Work stands for in a modern world,” added Lesley Giles. “We will strive to inspire positive action for the future, while still learning from the past.”

The Work Foundation was founded in 1918 as the Boys Welfare Association. During its history, there have been changes in its structure and operation to respond to external requirements, and overcome business challenges as it has adapted into the Industrial Welfare Society, Industrial Society and the Work Foundation. Since 2010, the Work Foundation has been working in partnership with Lancaster University. It is now part of the University.

Closing the event, Professor Dame Sue Black, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Engagement at Lancaster University said: “The Work Foundation is as relevant today as it was when it was formed.”

A series of provocation papers based on the four key principles to shape a more completive and inclusive future for the UK are being produced.

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