Good work (or goodbye hubris?)


Good work (or goodbye hubris?)

On a day where Cressida Dick has announced the introduction of part time working in the police to break down the gender barrier, and just a few weeks after Jacinda Arden announced a focus on national wellbeing rather than just economic growth; despite the gloomy news, I’m feeling a bit of hope.  As more women occupy the leadership space, the invitation to think more ambitiously about “good” and human is opening something up. Hubris may be dying.

I get less exercised about AI than I do about how inequalities in the workplace have gathered momentum.  In my view, unless we tackle our underlying assumptions about the version of capitalism within which we live, where like never before, the world’s wealth is hoarded, stockpiled, situated in few powerful giants – AI will not augment us (as Garry Kasparov argued in his keynote) but will assimilate us and further remove human agency and continue to locate power within a few. I wanted to hear what this distinguished panel thought as they explored the topic of good work and the future of jobs in a changing economic landscape.

I have written so many notes; so here are just some of the thoughts that resonated:

Vicky Pryce, Chief Economic Adviser, Centre for Economics, acknowledged that we do have high employment, higher employment yet – this is coupled with long term low investment levels.  Productivity has fallen, and we have hardly recovered from the financial catastrophe in the late noughties. We are the slowest growing economy with the exception of Italy. We are losing out in terms of innovation, despite the current success of Tech Week.  Manufacturing output is falling. Because of Brexit we have lost 3% of GDP – the jobs that are being created are low skill, low pay jobs. Not what you would describe as good work.

Caroline Fairbairn, Director General of the CBI expressed her view that businesses are naturally optimistic, but – here we are, three years on from the referendum – consumers are still spending but the declining business investment is an issue. There is a bright spot though, whilst creating new factories has been postponed, productivity in tech investment has been continuous.

Matthew Taylor, CEO of the Royal Society of Arts; “I think the history suggests that the economy is rather like a relationships; you only really find out what’s going on when things go wrong…… I think that reflects our version of capitalism; short term in its view. Quick wins, turnarounds, at what cost? He continued “We don’t know what’s going on, whilst it’s doing relatively well. We will find out some difficult things when the cycle turns.”

Paul Nowak, Deputy General Secretary, British Trade Union talked about the paradox that whilst we have record levels of employment and some GDP growth – this is not being felt by many people.  Growth is not their lived experience; public sector employees for example have effectively had a pay reductions. There are far too many people living precarious lives.

Across western world OCD, where there have been job losses – middle level jobs replaced by machines – the worrying thing is said Vicky Pryce, we haven’t seen any increase in productivity.  So eliminating good work in pursuit of savings through automation is not doing anything major for the economy.


Matthew Taylor then said we need to look at issues with more granularity – the big numbers don’t tell the story.  The future is less determinant than we think because of business models. For example, we have more people working in retail – but they are working in warehouses and driving vans because our habits have changed.  Streaming of music led to predictions didn’t also preduct that our mobile phones would be our record and radio collection with people listening to music all the time, or – that five music festivals would turn into a thousand.

If you automate something, everything else can automate it, so either you establish a monopoly, you won’t get value out of automating.  So we need to identify new ways of finding value. The RSA is working with different sectors, asking “how is your business model likely to evolve?”  This is importantly being asked within the context of how we can improve working lives.

Caroline Fairbairn raised a real concern – the scale and pace of change.  Over the next 20 years there could be up to 10 million people needing retraining, and this has to be a strategic decision that a country makes – we need partnerships between business, academia, government to address this.

Paul Nowak added; “it’s important that we don’t become technological fatalists, the future isn’t determined.”

  1. Taking the scenario above, of up to 10 million needing retraining, we need to think about a just transition  How do we support people through such a change; it’s beyond skills development, it’s about national retraining, social security.
  2. Change must be done WITH workers.
  3. How we are going to share this as it comes down the line?  How do we redesign taxation benefits, not just for global tech giants.  We mustn’t embed existing inequalities.

None of it will happen by accident.  We can decide.

Ten years ago, what the panel would have been discussing was knowledge management, that hasn’t happened.  In fact, it’s been the opposite, tech hasn’t led to that type of improvement. If you look at fundamentally how we have altered our habits with the advent of the smartphone for example –  HS2. The cost benefit analysis was done because of time saved. They have abandoned that, because we work on the train now, so the time saving doesn’t matter. There has been a huge and fast transformation in our habits.

Very little money is being spent on strategic thinking.

Matthew talked about power and the changing nature of capitalism. Average salary of google employee in tech giants is over 100k.  The gaps between those most dynamic companies able to exploit monopolistic situations and everyone else are unsustainable. How do we unbundle some of the assets hoarded by those giants.   These are the most powerful corporations the world has ever seen. This can’t go on, whilst recognition it can’t go on, no plan. Not just left wing view; it’s not good for the economy for talent, assets to be concentrated in such a few companies.

These are powerful forces, voices joining together to argue and act for creating good work within the context of our changing economic landscape.

I agree – we can determine our future.  We have the unique capacity to think for ourselves, more than ever we need to do that. Hubris has got us to an unsustainable place.  Valuing humanity has to replace that.


meg peppin

This article comes courtesy of Meg Peppin, OD Facilitator. Meg is a judge for the HR Distinction Awards and is member the CIPD’s HR Director Future of Work forum. She is advising the CIPD on the their OD digital learning content and is a coach for the New Entrepreneurs Foundation.




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The CIPD’s Festival of Work (12-13 June 2019, Olympia London, promises to be a landmark event for both people professionals and business leaders. By focusing on the most innovative strategies in management, technology and learning, the festival will help you, and 7,000 of your colleagues, to harness the latest transformations and drive a human future of work. With 7,000+ attendees, 160+ inspiring speakers, filled with inspirational live experiences and challenging ideas, it’s the ultimate celebration of people in the workplace.



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