Reflections on the Good Work Project: how can councils and combined authorities best support good work in their communities?

Blog posts

20 Sep 2022

Danni-May Higlett, Research Assistant 
Cristiana Orlando, Health Foundation Research Fellow
Astrid Allen, Research Fellow

The current labour market faces many challenges, especially recovering from Covid-19 and with the cost of living crisis. Businesses, local government, and employer support bodies need to work together to establish ambitions around ‘good work’ and ensuring that employers have a positive impact on the individuals they employ and the communities they serve.

As the shape of the labour market rapidly evolves, discussions on the future, and the changing nature of work become increasingly prominent. People across the country are facing severe cost of living pressures, leading to key considerations for business and local government to take into account. Chiefly, how can they cooperate to become more socially responsible and help local communities thrive, despite the economic and social challenges we’re currently living through? It is crucial, now more than ever, that employers adopt good work approaches as the quality of work becomes increasingly important to business survival, as well as the wellbeing of local communities.

Despite ongoing research and established definitions around ‘good work’ it remains a nebulous concept - because there’s an important element of subjectivity around what constitutes good work for individuals and across different localities. However, while we should steer away from rigid categories and tick box exercises, there is a need for guiding principles setting clear, flexible markers of what defines good work. In particular, there is a key dimension to good work which transcends traditional definitions of good working conditions and work environments. This is ensuring that work helps employees feel a sense of purpose and value around their jobs, and an effective way to promote this is through businesses’ active efforts to positively impact their local communities. 

IES recently teamed up with the Local Government Association (LGA), the national representative body for local authorities in England, to support its members to understand how local and combined authorities can create and promote good work. We highlighted several examples in which local government (councils and combined authorities) and businesses have supported change, using good work charters, creating social value through procurement and grant giving and offering local business support. The case studies give practical examples of how putting ambitions around good work at the heart of local government and businesses can catalyse real impact.

Our top tips for employers, drawn from the case studies, emphasises the potential for good work to encourage employees, customers and partners to support business growth. Our recommendations also encourage businesses to ‘think local’ and make a difference to their own community, which will not only improve outcomes for residents, but pay dividends to their business in the long term. A key takeaway from the research is that organisations need to share information and learn from one another, collaborating with like-minded companies to make a bigger difference. It is also important for businesses to remember to not only incorporate good work practices for their own staff but encourage and support their supply chain to do the same.

We also produced recommendations for local government to help them put good work into practice locally. These speak to the importance of local government leading by example, engaging internal stakeholders. The advice encourages them to focus on a single element of good work to embed throughout their approach, from recruitment to procurement, and engage their local employer market with the support of clear messages and high-profile ambassadors. Beyond this it is important for local government to develop a long-term approach in supporting employers to adopt good work practices.

The fallout from the pandemic and the current cost of living crisis highlights the need for local government and local employers to support good work initiatives more now, than ever. The research shows that, with the right navigation and resources, local government and businesses can do more through adopting good work practices which are achievable regardless of location, size or sector. Beyond employers and local government, there is also a role for employer organisations to adopt around educating and supporting their members regarding their social responsibility efforts. As our research has shown the key to achieving good work, as we go forward, lies in the concerted and collective action of all of those with a stake in the continued prosperity and growth of local communities.

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Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.