New report shows impact of COVID-19 on Good Work Agenda in the North East

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership and Durham University Business School have published a new report looking at how COVID-19, and the introduction of widespread flexible working, has contributed to the Good Work Agenda in the North East.

(The report is available to view here)

Researched and written during the coronavirus pandemic, it provides a unique insight into how changing working patterns accelerated employers’ ability to ensure better working practices for their employees, providing better quality and more meaningful work.

The new research supports existing Good Work pledges, charters and toolkits published by organisations including the North of Tyne Combined Authority, Northern Trades Union Congress, and North East England Chamber of Commerce.

Drawing on more than 20 qualitative interviews carried out between January and April 2021, the report includes a set of recommendations to support other businesses in the North East to implement and carry out better working practices for their employees.

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The unique thing about this research is that it was developed in real time during the pandemic, which was a period of huge change for businesses.

“Almost all organisations were compelled to introduce some form of flexible working, which introduced its own set of challenges for employers and employees. How do you provide a supportive and rewarding working environment when your staff are instructed to work from home by government?”

“What we’ve found is that lots of businesses in the North East have been installing the principles of Good Work as a result of the pandemic. The introduction of remote and hybrid working has helped employers focus on important employee issues, such as work/life balance, flexible working, health and wellbeing, and communication.”

Organisations including AkzoNobel, Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Irwin Mitchell LLP and Quorum Business Park took part in the research. Employers discussed how the experience of adapting during the pandemic has introduced better working practices for employees, particularly around areas like flexible working, encouraging a healthy work/life balance, and what the future of work will look like post-pandemic.

Contributors described good work as being more than just having a good job; it was about delivering justice, fairness, transparency, opportunity, balance, enjoyment, and support.

A spokesperson from law firm Irwin Mitchell said: “Although we were quite flexible before COVID-19, we have been really flexible during it, and I think it will be about maintaining that and looking at different ways to support people within the various things that they go through in life.”

A spokesperson from AkzoNobel said: “Obviously when you introduce a policy like flexible working, people immediately think it is just for mothers who have children, to allow them to do drop offs. We very much promoted it in that it is not, if you have got a hobby on a Friday afternoon that you want to go and do, we want to encourage you to go and do it.”

The Good Work Agenda and flexible working report was conducted and written by Dr. Cat Spellman, Prof. Jo McBride from Durham University Business School, and Dr. Andrew Smith from Sheffield University Management School, in collaboration with the North East Local Enterprise Partnership. It was funded by a Durham ESRC IAA grant awarded by national research body, UK Research and Innovation.

Professor Jo McBride, Chair in Work and Employment Relations at Durham University Business School, said: “COVID-19 restrictions forced a rapid extension of a more flexible way of working. For many organisations this contributed to a reflection and reassessment of the future of work in their workplaces. It also led to the realisation for some of the significant value of a workforce.

“At a time when organisations are faced with an opportunity to proactively change the way they work and improve their employment relationship, this is also a perfect opportunity to link into and develop the Good Work Agenda.”

Michelle Rainbow from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership added: “I think the timing of the publication of this research is important because many organisations are considering what the future looks like in terms of how and where their employees work.

“The insight we have gathered will, I hope, give businesses confidence in knowing they’re not alone in tackling these issues. The conclusions and recommendations in the report are focused on centering policies around employees’ needs, welfare and wellbeing; and that is at the core of the Good Work Agenda.”

The impact of COVID-19 on the Good Work Agenda and flexible working is available to read on the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s Evidence Hub via evidencehub.northeastlep.co.uk.

For more information about the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, visit www.northeastlep.co.uk.

For more information about Durham University Business School, visit www.dur.ac.uk/business.

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