Good work: lessons from the Taylor report

The Taylor review was established to investigate the implications of modern working practices, and the rise of the ‘gig economy’. Published in July 2017, it does not specifically focus on health and safety, nonetheless, it contains valuable insights for practitioners.

The report starts with a clear message: “All work in the UK economy should be fair and decent with realistic scope for development and fulfilment.” Good work, the report argues, helps people stay happy and healthy, benefiting them and the wider society, and better designed work improves productivity by getting the best out of people.

Good work sustains and promotes mental health and wellbeing. The report draws on the ‘QuInnE’ model, which proposes six indicators of job quality: wages; employment quality; education and training; working conditions; work-life balance; and consultative participation and collective representation.

Effective health and safety management provides a foundation for good work by ensuring that working conditions are reasonable and that sources of stress, such as bullying or excessive demands, are being managed. The report highlights, however, that a culture of unpaid overtime has emerged, contributing to mental ill health. Good work is broader than preventing ill health.

‘Employment quality’ includes offering fulfilling work, job security and predictability in working hours.  ‘Work-life balance’ involves providing flexibility in work, which was found to improve productivity and worker retention. Throughout the report, readers are reminded that people are individuals, with their own needs and priorities, which change over time. Some people may place greater value on flexibility, consciously trading that against job security or other factors.

The report recognises that some people are motivated to gain accredited qualifications, others want to enhance job-related skills. This reminds us that a smorgasbord of health and safety training will be most effective, allowing people to pick from a mix of on-the-job mentoring and formal courses.

In many organisations, the terms and conditions of employment, the training and development strategies or the way workers are managed are controlled by functions such as operations and human resources. Health and safety practitioners who want to bolster mental health by promoting the good work agenda will need to build alliances and dialogue across their company. The Taylor report could help to open those doors.

This could lead onto more challenging discussions about the organisational culture, and the beliefs and values underpinning that culture: Does the organisation want workers to be happy and healthy? Are people expected to work unpaid overtime? The notion of giving greater flexibility and control to workers could meet with resistance. The ‘safety differently’ approach is an example of how this is being overcome in the realm of health and safety.

With the changing patterns of work, the review was particularly interested in how organisations determine if someone is employed or self-employed. One of the tests involves considering the degree of control that an organisation has over the worker.

If someone is truly self-employed, how much control should health and safety exert over that person? For example, is the worker producing their own risk assessments and safe systems of work or are these imposed by the organisation? If the degree of control crosses a murky threshold, a self-employed worker transforms into an employee, attracting a wider range of duties and obligations. The report recommends a change of legislation to provide clarity and this is a debate that the health and safety community should engage in.

The chapter titled ‘Responsible business’, largely focuses on consultation and employee voice. The report explains that managers who listen to the workforce will hear concerns, receive feedback about business practices and gain insights to influence strategic plans. Two-way dialogue supports good work: it promotes positive working relationships and “people are most likely to enjoy what they do when they have a meaningful say at work.” In contrast, having no control over one’s work undermines wellbeing. For health and safety practitioners, the report offers unequivocal support for both formal and informal consultation and reminds us that health and safety is best done with people – not to them.

The Taylor report is a worthwhile addition to the reading list of health and safety practitioners. It may be most valuable as a conversation starter with key decision makers in an organisation about the value of effective consultation and the impact of work on wellbeing and productivity.

Taylor Report available here

Nick Bell is consultant at Nick Bell Risk Consultancy