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Lone working may be unhealthy, says Theos report

28 March 2024

It argues for a rediscovery of Christian work principles

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A REPORT from the think tank Theos argues that increased lone working without security of employment may be making millions of British people “insecure and ill”.

It argues for a rediscovery of Christian work principles. These would restore dignity, fairness, connectedness, and better health to working arrangements, the author, Tim Thorlby, argues. He is the director of Beautiful Enterprise, an ethics and sustainability consultancy.

His report, The Ties That Bind: The rise of insecure and lone working and the search for mutual bonds, seeks “a new and fuller conception of what work means in the modern world”, and says that this “must begin from a deep account of how human beings are most likely to flourish”.

Mutuality — “a moral commitment to each other beyond immediate transactions or written contracts” — is an important theme.

One of the author’s main findings is the estimate that pre-Covid 19 pandemic levels of lone and hybrid working at 27 per cent have now risen to 59 per cent, as a proportion of the workforce operates “alone for at least some of the week”.

Loneliness, blurred boundaries between work and home, less creativity, and greater prevalence of health issues are all referred to as factors of concern in the spread of home working.

Flexibility in the labour market can be a positive for many, the report says, but has also enabled the so-called “gig economy”. A significant issue is the apparent lack of fairness and security for workers. This, it says, affects nearly one in five (19 per cent), or more than six million workers. Self-employment and zero-hours contracts are further aspects of a working pattern that can contribute to poor mental health and financial insecurity.

Dignity, agency, limit (“of boundaries in an environment of limitless work”), and fair rewards are areas of on which the author makes recommendations, as well as on moving “beyond contract to covenant”, and “the importance of ethical leadership”.

The report suggests that “four essential features to strong mutual relationships for every worker [are] fair hourly pay at or above a real living wage; predictable hours and income which are changed only with fair notice; connection for workers, who should be well managed and supported; and healthy work, [which] supports good physical and mental health.”

The report concludes with two sets of recommendations to the Government and employers. It is the first in a series of three reports “looking at how we can create better work for us all by paying attention to the social dynamics — the love, even — in our workplaces”.

The General Synod heard last month how “the future of work is one of the most pressing questions of the times”, in a paper presented by the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft (News, 1 March). “Work is a central theological as well as anthropological concern,” he said.

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