Work Futures

Major transformations are taking place in the organisation of both businesses and work that are reconfiguring work futures.

Globally, the nature of work and employment is undergoing major changes, partly in response to technological change, pressures for innovation, individualised human resource management systems and organisational transformation. Concerns over low labour productivity levels are fuelling debates about the potential of automation and robotisation, with potentially serious implications for employment rates and job quality. However, the future of work is not technologically determined and is shaped by alternative national employment models, new performance-driven HR systems and varied forms of counter-responses via civil society pressures, lead firms, trade unions and supranational rules.

graphic of networked globe in space

Research expertise 

In relation to debates on the future of work, WEI colleagues have advanced theories and evidence in a number of key areas.  For example, our research shows that with low entry barriers to digital platforms (often referred to as the gig economy) workers enter into an ambiguous legal employment status with weak social protection and employment rights. WEI research also demonstrates how digital platforms mediate the production-consumer interface and rely on algorithmic management systems to commodify and intensify work. However, job quality outcomes are not inevitable and our research reveals variations under different national institutional regimes. Similarly, global supply networks can be vehicles for transferring better employment practices via forms of social value contracting, although outcomes are contingent on host country institutions, including capabilities of civil society organisations in driving positive change. 

Current and future agenda 

This internationally oriented research theme seeks to investigate overlapping business transformations through emerging technologies, high-performance human resource models, global value chains and national firm networks with the aim of contributing to new thinking for policy and practice that can support a more inclusive and equal experience of quality work in all regions of the world. WEI members are pursuing these themes through various research projects in a number of areas including: public procurement contracts and social clauses; examining the contextual and behavioural factors that influence radical change in the process of digital innovation at Unilever; gender and platform work; and the working conditions of male and female football players.