IGN Insights

Why does good work matter?

Dr Sarah Crozier square

Dr. Sarah Crozier

Reader in Occupational Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University

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What is good work? Why does it matter? How do experiences of good work (or otherwise) impact employees and bring about challenges or opportunities for inclusive growth, especially in difficult times?

For many individuals, work takes up much of our time and has the capacity to provide meaning, achievement and success. Its value in bringing about positive impacts for health, well-being and productivity are well-documented. The provision of good work for all remains a commitment and aspiration across many local and combined authorities.

A pertinent challenge for policy makers and academics is the need to balance idealistic ambitions around what good work looks like against operational and practical constraints. We began working with Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) when they were at the early stages of their charter development and began the co-design process of evaluation. This provided our research team at Manchester Metropolitan University with a fantastic opportunity to build an understanding of the interplay between the theory around ‘good employment’ and practical application. It enabled us to understand what works, what is difficult, and what may need to change or evolve in operationalising a scheme that brings to life a vision and a mission to achieve good work.

We have completed an evaluation project that spanned the first three years of the charter. There are two streams of work and associated publications that we hope will be interesting and useful. The first is the set of evaluation reports that shares the largely positive impact of participating in a good employment charter initiative from the perspectives of employers (phase 1) and employees (phase 2). Second, we present a toolkit for showcasing the process of developing a good employment charter. Here we share GM’s story of building the initiative. The toolkit is centred around a visual model as a framework for understanding the different activities that happen at each stage of charter development. We’ve included a range of resources such as an indicative timeline, top tips, checklists, reflective logs, complexities and challenges, and skills matrices. It is hoped that these will be helpful in heightening the visibility of charter design so that other regions may use them to sense-check and reflect upon their own progress. Our work acknowledges that there is no one best way to design a workplace charter.

Our research findings allow us to reflect on some interesting debates. How does a region decide what to include in such an initiative: are there universal indicators of good employment? Equally, we are interested in further developing our understanding and measurement of impact over time. Our research has helped us to map out some of the charter elements that were most important to employees in Greater Manchester in shaping their overall perceptions of good employment. Our work also raises interesting questions about the extent to which some characteristics could be prioritised over others when organisations first begin to address good employment.

Similarly, we are fascinated by how different elements of the charter interact with one another and were able to evidence engaging stories about how the different ingredients of good work were valued by employees. We suggest further work is needed in the modelling of relationships between different elements of good employment. For example, in Greater Manchester the inclusion of a ‘health and well-being’ element could be framed as an ingredient of good employment but is also in itself a potential consequence of other good employment characteristics. Similarly, excellent people management could be an enabler of access to other facets of good employment. It is also extremely important to examine how the experience of good employment can differ across diversity demographics in order to explore inequity and parity. How can charters be used to create and maintain an inclusive and supportive culture? Likewise, there is a need for more work to examine traditionally hard to reach sectors or industries with a view to heighten participation in workplace charters.

Our research from numerous projects tells us that the way one feels when they leave a supportive meeting with a manager at the end of a difficult day impacts not only a sense of belonging and satisfaction but a desire to develop and stay within the organisation. The security of a permanent contract can relieve an all-consuming worry about financial stability and drive quality of life across many indicators. And professionalisation through established career development pathways can bring about improvements in performance as well as a sense of worth and productivity. Similarly, the absence of good work and indeed the presence of damaging workplace experiences can be catastrophic.

There is further work to be done in investigating the role of good employment initiatives in bringing about positive change in workplace terms and conditions for all. We are keen to engage with other regions to learn about your approaches and build a network for support and learning.