Top international experts highlight new evidence on the future of work

June 23, 2003

The world's leading experts on the future of work will speak at a two-day conference (23-24 June) held in London and hosted by the ESRC-funded Future of Work Research Programme.

"This conference will put an end to the conjecture and visionary statements that too often capture the headlines on the future of paid and unpaid work," states Professor Peter Nolan, Director of the Future of Work Programme. "Over the next two days, we will hear measured conclusions on this important area of policy debate based on rigorous research from top international experts," he points out. "Their reasoned judgements will contrast with the many extravagant but wholly speculative claims that are made too often about the likely patterns of work in the 21st century."

The conference combines striking new findings from the Future of Work Programme with important research from nine countries including the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Germany. Many of these findings contradict the often wildly optimistic or pessimistic scenarios of work futures that have been painted over the past decade. For example, in the UK, findings from recent national surveys show:Such evidence suggests that the future world of work will not, as some have predicted, be characterised by revolutionary changes in employment, work relations and work-life balance. Instead, argues Professor Nolan, conference speakers will paint a much more complex picture of piecemeal and contradictory patterns of change. "The character of work organisations, employment relations, management strategies and worker responses is indeed changing," he states. "But research from around the world points to complexity, unevenness and the enduring features in the structure and relations of employment." Such research will provide policy-makers with some welcome and timely evidence with which to inform future policy initiatives.

Conference speakers include Professor Tom Kochan, MIT, USA, Professor Mary Mallon, Massey University, New Zealand and Lulea University of Technology and Swedish Research Council. Conference chairs and discussants include Rita Donaghy, ACAS, Frances O'Grady, Deputy General Secretary UK TUC, Jean A Bonilla, Minister Counsellor, Labour and Social Affairs, American Embassy, David Coates, Head of Economic and Social Affairs, UK TUD and Hilary Sampson-Barry, Women and Equality Unit, UK Department for Trade and Industry.

The conference also sees the launch of a special edition of the British Journal of Industrial Relations, edited by Professor Peter Nolan and Professor Stephen Wood, which reports detailed findings of seven projects from the ESRC Future of Work Programme. The papers in this special edition reveal new evidence about the changing nature of work, the boundaries between home and paid work and the relations between employees, employers and trade unions. For example:"This special edition disseminates results from the very sort of detailed studies which are required if we are to understand and influence the future of work," Professor Nolan suggests.
For further information:
Contact Professor Peter Nolan, tel: 113-233-4460 email:;
Or Lesley Lilley, Rachel Blackford or Anna Hinds, ESRC External Relations, tel: 01793-413119 / 413126 / 413122.


1. The Future of Work: an international symposium will be held from 23-24 June 2003 at the RSA, London. For a full list of speakers please contact Iain Stewart at ESRC, e-mail:

2. The Future of Work Programme was launched by the ESRC in October 1998 with a five-year projected timescale. Comprising 27 projects and involving more than one hundred leading researchers from 22 institutions across the UK, this is the most systematic and rigorous enquiry of its kind, providing evidence-based research for a better understanding of the changing world of work in a period of rapid social, technological and economic change. It has focused on four principal themes: the future of employment relations; changes in labour markets; work-life imbalances; and the performance consequences of changing organizational forms and management practices. For further details about the programme contact Professor Peter Nolan Tel 0113-233-4504.

3. The special Future of Work issue of The British Journal of Industrial Relations is published in June 2003 by Blackwell Publishing Ltd. The issue is edited by Professor Peter Nolan, e-mail: and Professor Stephen Wood, of the Institute of Work Psychology, University of Sheffield and associate of the Centre for Economic Performance, LSE, e-mail:

3. More recent findings from the Future of Work Programme are published in a report, High Road/Low Road - Skills and Innovation in Britain's Workplaces, by Robert Taylor, media fellow with the ESRC's Future of Work Programme. This report is available on request from the ESRC. This report is based, in part, on research papers presented at an ESRC conference in April 2003 at Cumberland Lodge on skills, innovation and performance. Conference speakers included researchers from the ESRC Future of Work Programme, the ESRC Centre on Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance and the ESRC Centre for Organisation and Innovation.

4. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It has a track record of producing high-quality relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC invests more than £46 million every year in social sciences research. At any time, its range of funding schemes may be supporting 2,000 researchers within academic institutions and research policy institutes. It also funds postgraduate training within the social sciences, thereby nurturing the researchers of tomorrow. The ESRC website address is

5. REGARD is the ESRC's database of research. It provides a key source of information on ESRC social science research awards and all associated publications and products. The website can be found at

Economic & Social Research Council

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