The world of work is changing and being changed, bringing about new problems and new opportunities. With these changes our approach to work must change as well. This is the argument of the Christian think tank Theos in their new report, Just work, Humanising the Labour market in a changing world

In January 2021 Theos commissioned YouGov to carry out polling that found 33 per cent of work is just a way of earning to provide for life’s necessities” and 45 per cent say they would retrain for a different career if given the opportunity. 

In a society that is generally dissatisfied with work, authors of the report Paul Bickley and Barbara Ridpath argue that the nature and importance” of work, as well as how it can contribute to human flourishing, can be better understood when viewed through the lens of the Christian faith. 

At the Evangelical Alliance we have been considering how Christians can contribute to job creation to help people avoid long-term unemployment in the face of the job crisis brought on by the pandemic. This report is hugely helpful for understanding not only the difference that Christ makes in the Christian’s approach to creating jobs but to our general attitudes towards work too, both as employers and employees. 

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The report argues that the world of work is currently facing three great disruptions: technological (AI, machine learning, and automation); ecological (climate change, loss of biodiversity); and anthropological (human vulnerability – seen through the pandemic, migration, and declining birth rates). 

Any of these would see many jobs eliminated, replaced or changed. Together they create an unpredictable environment in which work could be dehumanised. Bickley and Ridpath urge readers of the report to use these disruptions as an opportunity to humanise work and working conditions.

The report makes three key proposals:

  • A focus on a full-work rather than full-employment economy, recognising that paid employment is the main, but not the only, form of work. Understanding that unpaid work, such as care and volunteer work, is crucial for a flourishing society. In Addition, the need to distribute paid employment better and acknowledge, create space for, and properly support unpaid but essential forms of work.
  • Recognition of the human person as central to any healthy understanding of work. There needs to be an ongoing project to secure the priority of people over profit. There should be clear requirements on the fair handling of wages, benefits, agency work and outsourcing. Employee surveillance should be added to the social criteria looked at within environmental, social and governance investing. While governments have a role in setting the conditions in which good jobs with fair conditions become the norm, the nature of global markets means that national governments are not always the most powerful actors.
  • Recovery of shared practices of rest, in order to counter our culture of overwork. The blurring of the boundaries between work and leisure, seen during the pandemic, has negatively impacted many workers. The report argues that the biblical idea of a Sabbath could be the solution. If we could recover it, or find new shared practices of rest, we would help tackle overwork of people and exploitation of our natural environment. 

This final proposal comes with three further recommendations: that the UK should hold more public holidays, eliminate some unpaid overtime in the economy and offer support for the Living Hours campaign of the Living Wage Foundation. 

Bickley calls for the culture of work to be transformed: The issue is not work itself, but rather what happens when we make work, rather than the people who do it, our focus. We are disconnected from a healthy sense of work, and severing the needed boundaries between work and rest has set us adrift. The biblical idea of Sabbath is an ancient answer to modern anxieties. It’s time to rediscover it.”

Read the full report here.

This report is hugely helpful for understanding not only the difference that Christ makes in the Christian’s approach to creating jobs but to our general attitudes towards work too