Education: Social Sciences - Does Your Job Get You All Worked Up?

Article excerpt

WHAT IS the future of work? Will new and interesting jobs flood on to the market because of the new economies or will there be mass unemployment as traditional jobs continue to disappear? Will more and more of us work from home or do we find the long office-working- hours culture of Britain worth it?

There has been no shortage of ideas from think-tanks and policy commentators on this, one of the central issues of any society. Many of the predictions have been gloomy, imagining a future of vanishing work for the many and mass social division, others have been almost utopian.

But all these visions lack is hard evidence from research. That is at last being put right by a pounds 4m programme backed by the Economic and Social Science Research Council, which seeks to get a better understanding of the future of work during a progress of fast social, economic and technological change.

Professor Peter Nolan, the Montague Burton professor of industrial relations at Leeds University and the director of the Future of Work programme, says: "For nearly 10 years now there has been incredible speculation about the future of work. Most of the headlines have been captured by visionaries who don't do research. They usually come up with fairly apocalyptic scenarios that don't have any basis in research.

The Future of Work programme began in 1998 and is organised in two overlapping phases, consisting of 27 projects involving more than 100 leading researchers across the UK. The 19 projects under the first phase are examining the future of unskilled work, the nature of working from home, the changing character of the employment relationship, and business re-engineering and performance.

The programme's second phase began in January with eight new projects looking at domestic and international changes in the character, regulation and distribution of work.

The studies are already bearing fruit and some of the evidence explodes myths surrounding work. For example, the study on working from home has found that women doing higher-grade work from home earn more than their office-bound contemporaries. The notion of the part-time worker being typically a woman with dependent children stuffing envelopes for an employer who pays peanuts is turned on its head. Yes she is there, but more workers in higher-grade jobs are based at home, at least part of the time, than those working in lower-grade occupations. Men in higher-grade jobs outnumber women in the group of people who work from home at least part of the time.

The home-working study, carried out by Dr Alan Felstead of the Centre for Labour Market Studies at the University of Leicester, found two-and- a-half per cent of people now work from home full- time, and a further 22 per cent work from home at least part of the time. It also found that the public sector is more likely to offer the option of home working than private employers. …