The working lives programme of research supports the creation of new insights from research and datasets that help us to understand contemporary transformations in work and working lives, the causal factors involved, and the implications for individuals, businesses, practitioners and policymakers.
Research funded under the working lives programme of research seeks to improve understanding around contemporary work and work-life developments to support meaningful policy and practice changes.
We fund research, data collection and innovations to help people, organisations and policymakers make sense of all aspects of contemporary work and employment, transforming working lives for the better.
This will create benefits for people living in the UK in 2 key ways.
From an individual perspective: many people want access to good quality, healthy jobs with safe working practices that enable them to meet the everyday cost of living. Our research focuses on improving how people experience work, a core component of most people’s lives.
From an economic perspective: the research looks at ultimately improving the efficiency of the labour market, developing UK human capital and improving working practices to boost UK performance and productivity.
Our research areas include:
- human resource management
- employment and workplace relations
- sociology of work
- work psychology
- labour market studies
- labour economics
- organisational behaviour
- job quality and design
- health and wellbeing
- equality, diversity and inclusion
- labour mobility
- career transitions
The findings from the different projects will build research evidence for effective future interventions.
Below are some examples of our programmes.
Transforming Working Lives (TWL) programme
Transforming Working Lives is a £3.9 million investment in seven new research projects to improve the world of work for UK workers.
The projects will explore UK workers’ experiences of workplace power dynamics and managing career transitions to transform them for the better.
Voice and power in contemporary online retail UK warehouses
Led by Professor Niall Cullinane, Queen’s University Belfast
This project will explore to what extent workers’ interests are being heard and addressed in online retail warehouses and what types of support are needed to counter any evident deficits in the capacity to voice effectively.
Amplifying employee voice and hearing the unheard
Led by Dr Stewart Johnstone, University of Strathclyde
This research will develop an innovative multilevel study of amplifying employee voices and hearing the unheard, investigating whether or not contemporary workers feel informed at work.
Minority ethnic doctors’ career transitions in medicine
Led by Dr Etyln Kenny, University of Birmingham
This study will explain how ethnic minority doctors and would-be doctors, or ‘aspirants’, manage their transitions throughout their medical careers.
Making space for people in truck driving work
Led by Dr Debbie Hopkins, University of Oxford
This research will improve the logistics sector and workers’ lives in the UK and beyond and examine how the work truck drivers do is represented by the mass media and within the sector.
Read more about the trucking lives project.
Transition to parenthood in UK SMEs
Led by Dr Bianca Stumbitz, Middlesex University London
Small employers have the lowest awareness about the rights of pregnant and newly maternal employees. This project will:
- investigate the transition to parenthood for employees working in UK small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs)
- offer low-cost and scalable solutions to manage new parenthood in these workplaces effectively
Transitions of young workers in the UK labour market: consequences for careers, earnings, health and wellbeing
Led by Professor Jason Heyes, The University of Sheffield
The project will enhance our understanding of diversity in labour market experiences and outcomes of young workers by comparing the impact of:
L-earning: rethinking young women’s working lives
Led by Dr Kim Allen, University of Leeds
This project will improve our understanding of how gendered inequalities emerge and exist in early forms of work, exploring how paid work fits and is reconciled within young women’s wider lives and relationships.
Read more about the L-earning project.
Collaboration with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
As part of its programme of work innovation, the OECD collaborates with global governments to measure and analyse the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on training needs and labour markets.
OECD is a UKRI international AI collaboration partner. ESRC has participated in the OECD’s AI in Work, Innovation, Productivity and Skills programme to strengthen the UK evidence base.
The studies funded as part of the programme include:
- impact of artificial intelligence on the labour market: OECD AI surveys of employers and workers
- artificial intelligence as an equaliser: how AI can help overcome labour market barriers
In addition, ESRC has provided a contribution to the 2022 ‘Risks that matter’ survey to ensure that the UK is represented in the data set.
Accredited researchers can be granted access to the OECD data, see contact details below.
The PrOPEL Hub (productivity outcomes of workplace practice, engagement and learning) is a significant initiative designed to support improvements in productivity through enhanced workplace practice and employee engagement.
Based at the University of Strathclyde, the hub brings together leading researchers from eight UK universities alongside the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development to develop practical tips and tools to help businesses take advantage of the latest insights and expertise.
The hub focuses on supporting the development of high-quality, inclusive and engaging workplaces that help tackle the UK’s productivity puzzle.
Skills and Employment Survey (SES) 2023
The Skills and Employment Survey is a long-running series of surveys of working people stretching back to the mid-1980s. The survey provides unique insights into the working lives of those living in Britain, and how the nature of work and the skills used at work have changed.
Fieldwork for the eighth survey in the series began in autumn 2023 with the preliminary results due out towards the end of 2024.
Linked employer-employee data (LEED)
ESRC recently commissioned an options report (PDF, 838KB) exploring a potential new UK-linked employer-employee dataset (LEED).
This builds on the Workplace Employment Relations Study (WERS), a national survey of people at work in Britain carried out by the former UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and co-funded by ESRC.
Further information on the survey series is available from the WERS website.