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Fair Work in the time of the Pandemic: fulfilment

By Patricia Findlay - Posted on 23 April 2020

Professor Patricia Findlay continues her review of fair work in the workplace during the current pandemic in the second in a series of blogposts on fair work in the crisis.

So what role can employers play at the moment? We talked in the first blog about the importance of furloughing staff where necessary and possible in order to support security of employment and earnings.

Turning to other dimensions of fair work, such as fulfilment, our research at SCER focuses strongly on management practices that allow people to make their own decisions without being ‘over-constrained’ by instructions or supervision, and therefore allowing people to use their best skills and talents in a work context.

One of the things that’s very interesting is that - in the context of a crisis which emerged very rapidly for employers - employers have had to consider ways of working and management practices which they would not necessarily have considered if these particular circumstances hadn’t arisen.

We do know that there is a long tradition in the UK – perhaps shifting in recent years but still prominent relative to some other successful economies - of command and control type management. But in a crisis, and in the current crisis, that’s not possible. So employers have had to think about innovation in working practices which research suggests are probably quite good for people – asking people to work when they can, to the best of their ability, in difficult circumstances, asking people to use their autonomy, to problem solve, to do all of these things which are often associated with driving innovation and performance, but which at this point are absolutely crucial in allowing businesses to continue to operate. That employers might be using practices that they would never have considered using before is really interesting from the point of view of being a researcher in this area.

I think there are many issues to consider when we come to the question of opportunity as a dimension of fair work. There are lots of things employers need to take a lot into account – most obviously the extent to which gender and care responsibilities will affect people’s ability to home work and to home work at particular times rather than the normal working hours that they might engage in when they’re physically present at work.

So there are some really important questions about working during the current crisis, particularly in relation to home working: how will gender impact on that, how will people’s other care responsibilities impact on that, how will people’s disabilities impact on their ability to engage in home working – will they be able to engage in the same way: and more broadly, what are the implications of home working in isolation for health and well-being? 

This latter question is not just in terms of the very important issue of not putting people at risk from the virus or any other hazards, but also in terms of how we keep people well physically and psychologically in circumstances where, for example, businesses have not been able to risk assess home working - which you would normally do. Although there are online tools which allow you to make some progress on risk assessment, how do you help employees with their broader well-being? 

The reality is – and we know this as much from the study of unemployment as from studying employment – that work is very good for people. It provides opportunities for social interaction, it allows them to use resources to deploy their skills well and that’s not available in the same form in a home working context so employers have a responsibility to try and ensure that that’s dealt with in the context of people home working in isolation.

These blog posts have been taken from an initial podcast by the Fraser of Allander Institute which can be found here

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