Seven research projects to improve UK working lives

Mixed ethnic group of medical professionals walking down a corridor together in the North East of England. They are working a shift at a hospital and are dressed in scrubs. The women are carrying digital tablets.

A £3.9 million investment in 7 new research projects is set to improve the world of work for UK workers.

The projects will explore UK workers’ experiences of workplace power dynamics, and managing career transitions, with the goal of transforming them for the better.

Researchers will investigate the rapid changes in our workplaces, for example by:

  • exploring parental-related discrimination in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)
  • asking how to attract and retain lorry drivers
  • studying the career transitions of ethnic minority doctors
  • studying whether or not UK retail warehouse workers are heard

Their findings will help build a solid base of evidence for effective future interventions, therefore supporting policymakers, businesses, and ultimately the UK’s working population.

Supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) under its Transforming Working Lives research priority, the projects total nearly £4 million.

Exploring themes

They will explore themes including:

  • the impact of changing labour markets, job security, environmental impacts and working patterns
  • how attitudes and motivations in relation to work are changing
  • how people navigate and manage their working lives, from starting work and remaining in a job, through to leaving a role
  • power dynamics, workplace relationships and associated implications

They will also:

  • investigate workers’ means of expressing themselves to influence organisational decision making, through 2 studies focused on UK retail warehouses and de-industrialised communities
  • explore the career transitions of ethnic minority doctors in the NHS
  • analyse the logistics sector and the quality of truck drivers’ lives
  • explore effective management of new parenthood in SME workplaces and related discrimination
  • examine how and when young workers begin participating in the labour market, through 2 studies focused on young people in general and young women in particular

All of the projects are summarised below in the further information section.

Each of the projects will start on 1 October 2022 and will run for 3 years.

Enhancing the collective impact

ESRC’s Interim Executive Chair, Professor Alison Park, said:

The world of work is changing rapidly. Understanding how and why it is changing, and how this affects workers’ lives, will help policymakers, businesses and employees to navigate key challenges, including how to help people to progress in their careers and how to enhance gender equality in the workplace.

These 7 new research projects will collaborate and coordinate with one another, enhancing the collective impact of ESRC’s investment.

Further information

Summaries of projects

Voice and power in contemporary online retail UK warehouses, £589,005

This project will explore to what extent workers’ interests are being heard and addressed in online retail warehouses and what types of supports are needed to counter any evident deficits in the capacity to effectively voice. This research will assess how well major UK online retail warehouses deliver on ‘good work’ objectives, including:

  • job satisfaction
  • fair pay
  • participation and progression
  • wellbeing
  • safety and security
  • voice and autonomy

Led by Dr Niall Cullinane of Queens University of Belfast, this research is in collaboration with:

  • University of Liverpool
  • The University of Manchester
  • Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development
  • Involvement and Participation Association

Amplifying employee voice and hearing the unheard, £562,082

This research will develop an innovative multilevel study of amplifying employee voice and hearing the unheard. It will investigate whether or not contemporary workers feel informed at work and the extent to which they feel they have the means to influence organisational decision making and improve their working lives.

The west of Scotland is the empirical focus of the project due to its transition from heavy industry to a variety of employer types.

Led by Dr Stewart Johnstone of the University of Strathclyde, this multidisciplinary study will work in partnership with:

  • University of Strathclyde
  • Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

Minority ethnic doctors’ career transitions in medicine, £568,084

A deeper understanding of relevant issues is needed to improve career support given to ethnic minority doctors and to help improve doctor retention in the NHS.

This study will provide an understanding of how ethnic minority doctors, and would-be doctors or ‘aspirants’, manage their transitions throughout their medical career.

The researchers will discover what barriers doctors face and what strategies contribute to successfully being able to progress from one stage of a medical career to the next.

Led by Dr Etlyn Kenny of the University of Birmingham, this project is in partnership with:

  • University of Birmingham
  • University of Warwick

Making space for people in truck driving work, £577,349

This research will contribute to improving the logistics sector and workers’ lives in the UK and beyond.

The project will research how logistics can be reconfigured to improve workers’ lives, and through this, attract and retain a diverse workforce. It will examine how the work truck drivers do is represented by the mass media and within the sector itself, in addition to how truck drivers experience their work.

There will be a focus on people underrepresented in the sector and what can be done to make truck driving a job that people want to do.

Led by Dr Debbie Hopkins of the University of Oxford, this project involves collaboration between:

  • University of Oxford
  • Newcastle University
  • University of Huddersfield

Transition to parenthood in UK SMEs, £476,878

Research has found that small employers have the lowest awareness about the rights of pregnant and newly maternal employees, and that they were least likely to provide options for flexible working (Adams et al., 2016).

This project will investigate the transition to parenthood for employees working in UK SMEs and offer low-cost and scalable solutions to the effective management of new parenthood in these workplaces. This research has been designed to have a direct impact on practice and policy, as well as to develop the academic understanding, of the management of maternity and paternity in SMEs.

Led by Dr Bianca Stumbitz of Middlesex University, this project is in partnership with:

  • Middlesex University
  • University of Leeds
  • The University of Manchester
  • Fatherhood Institute

Transitions of young workers in the UK labour market: consequences for careers, earnings, health and wellbeing, £584,087

This project will examine differences in the ability of younger workers to progress within the labour market and within their careers. It will enhance our understanding of diversity in labour market experiences and outcomes by comparing the impact of:

  • gender
  • race
  • ethnicity
  • disability

Led by Professor Jason Heyes of The University of Sheffield, this project will draw on longitudinal datasets to analyse the short and long-term consequences of positive and negative transitions, in partnership with:

  • The University of Sheffield
  • Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

L-earning: rethinking young women’s working lives, £571,908

This project will improve our understanding of how gendered inequalities emerge and exist in early forms of work and how these may create longer-term patterns and establish differences between men’s and women’s working lives that we know grow as workers get older.

The research will explore the ways paid work fits and is reconciled within young women’s wider lives and relationships, including:

  • friendships
  • family
  • connections to their community
  • developing identities
  • sense of self

Led by Dr Kimberly Allen of the University of Leeds, this project is in collaboration with:

  • University of Leeds
  • Manchester Metropolitan University
  • City, University of London

Top image:  Credit: SolStock, E+ via Getty Images

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