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May 2, 2023

IFOW Newsletter May 2023 | The view from IFOW

Happy May Day for yesterday, a good day to remember that everyone, including people on atypical and agency contracts working in digital or hybrid work spaces, should have access to good work.

The last two weeks have seen a flurry of parliamentary activity focused on work and automation. Common themes were the need to prioritise good jobs and human capabilities rather than tools, as well as more robust forms of regulation at work. We have had: 

I explored these themes in an opinion piece for The Guardian last week arguing that - while the government is putting huge store in advanced technologies - these will only become a ‘force for good‘ if we orient attention towards human capabilities and work up a systematic, proactive framework of accountability with additional protections in the workplace. In short, we need to invest in people, not just tools.

Guardian OpEd image

A good month, then, for highlighting the risks and opportunities of automation on good work, and forging policy directions to maximise the best outcomes for people and firms. 

We hope you enjoy the ‘deep dive’ below, and the interesting reads and events we have curated around our ongoing research.

Anna and the IFOW team

Deep Dive: The Bristol Project - talking about work on a city-centre industrial estate

Bristol Project report image

As measured in our Good Work Time Series, Bristol is characterised as a ‘Good Work Winner’, yet this does not mean that the secure access to good work is everyone’s experience there. The Bristol Project: talking about work on a city-centre industrial estate highlights the need for mechanisms through which the voice of workers can be considered alongside those of residents and business owners, especially when redevelopments are proposed that purport to bring better jobs.

Produced by IFOW in collaboration with researchers at the University of Bristol, this new report broadens the scope of current future of work debates to better include those engaged in routine work.

“Levelling up” initiatives for the provision of new investment and infrastructure tend to be organised along regional lines. Yet, at a highly local level, place-specific impacts of these regional initiatives tangibly shape how workers view the future of their work.

When redevelopments are planned, changes to work have emotional, social and political dimensions for workers, who want to be recognised alongside residents and business owners as stakeholders in communities that produce a sense of belonging.

The report’s findings challenge these traditional divides in policymaking, and encourage a more collaborative and inclusive approach.

Further reading: The Grimsby Project - We need to talk about work 

Interesting reads

Warehousing, routine work and skills provision

The development of the warehousing industry poses important policy challenges for both national government and local authorities. In an exclusive blog post for IFOW, Professor Charles Umney and Dr Abbie Winton explore the implications for policymakers seeking to create jobs and plan skills provision in regions where warehousing employment predominates – many of which suffered greatly from deindustrialisation.

Generative AI at Work

Professor Erik Brynjolfsson, who spoke at our Future of Work and Wellbeing Conference in January, is part of a team who have just published a new paper on the staggered introduction of a generative AI-based conversational assistant using data from 5,000 customer support agents. Their conclusions: the tool increased productivity, but also helped new workers absorb tacit knowledge from more experienced colleagues. There's a short podcast interview with Erik about this here.

What impact did furlough have on workers’ mental health?

Poor mental health is one of the most important predictors of employee sickness absence, with wider implications in terms of health costs, lost productivity and absenteeism. During the Covid-19 furlough, workers were faced with sudden changes to their employment status, and control over the extent to which they were able to work. This research from Digit compares the wellbeing of those who experienced reduced working hours, or who stopped work completely, with those who continued to work full-time.

Job Polarisation and the Declining Wages of Young Female Workers in the United Kingdom

The Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics has just published a study examining whether the decline of routine occupations contributed to rising wage inequality between young and prime-age non-college educated women in the UK over 2001-2019.

ChatGTP and the four day week

Our Co-Founder and Co-Chair, Professor Sir Christopher Pissarides, spoke to Bloomberg about how generative AI systems like ChatGTP could open the door to a four-day week by providing a major productivity boost for swathes of jobs. 

Good work and the Minimum Wage

The Resolution Foundation convened a panel to discuss dimensions of good work for those in low pay categories, and what reforms to sickness pay and the minimum wage might help to put better jobs at the heart of the UK’s economic strategy. 


World Economic Forum Growth Summit (2nd – 3rd May, Geneva / online)

WEF has its annual Growth Summit at the beginning of May. It comes ‘at a time of economic uncertainty, as global transformations disrupt industries, labour markets and livelihoods’ with ‘trends of rising inequality, sharpening polarisation, and both threats and opportunities from technology to jobs.’ The focus will be on resilient growth, developing human capital and accelerating economic equity, and the sessions can be followed live here.

CIPD Festival of Work (7th – 8th June, London Olympia)

This free two-day event is aimed at resourcing HR, Learning and Development and communication in businesses as firms look to understand the future of work. We are delighted that our Director, Anna Thomas, will be speaking as part of a panel discussing how AI and automation can be used responsibly to build good work.

The UK labour market in an international context (13th June, online)

The Work Foundation and a panel of experts review labour market statistics. What are the global trends shaping the future of the UK jobs market and what role can Government play to stimulate growth in the future?

London Tech Week (12th – 16th June, Queen Elizabeth Centre, London)

London Tech Week aims to showcase how technology is transforming business and society through thought-provoking conversations around innovation, diversity and transformation. Our Director, Anna Thomas, will be chairing a panel on Governing Digital Skills: Bridging the gap Between Enterprise and Government, with speakers Gori Yahahya, Founder & CEO, Upskill Digital, Elina Lam-Gall, Deputy Director, Learning and Workforce Transformation and Gina Gill, Chief Digital & Information Officer, Ministry of Justice Digital.

Thank you for your time and interest. If you enjoyed this newsletter and know someone else who would benefit from it, please do share it with them. If someone has forwarded this to you and you would like to receive future newsletters yourself, please subscribe here. If you have any ideas, comments or suggestions for future round-ups, please drop us a line at


Anna Thomas


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