Mon, 1 November 2021
COVID-19 has changed everything, including how we work (and to be more precise, are employed). But in order to best understand how things have changed, and hopefully to grapple with how they will be, it helps to have studied how they were. Enter Melanie Simms, professor of work and employment at the University of Glasgow ‘s Adam Smith Business School, and the author – in 2019 – of What Do We Know and What Should We Do About the Future of Work?
In this Social Science Bites podcast, Simms explains that while the idea of working from home seemed to be the dominant narrative during the pandemic, it’s only one of two “real headlines.” That’s in large part because the people who talk publicly about working from home are academics and journalists, both groups that did work from home. In fact, Simms relates, in the United Kingdom about 70 percent of workers spent some or all of their time at their workplace.
The less public headline, she notes, is that there seems to be a large group of people who have left the labor market during the pandemic – often women with children. And while improving options for childcare might see more mothers in employed positions, Simms notes a different trajectory for older workers -- almost anyone over 50 who has left the workforce in the last year-and-a-half struggles to re-enter it -- regardless of kind of work they do.
In discussion with interviewer David Edmonds, Simms details that while she does look at global trends, her research mostly focuses on the United Kingdom, and thanks to the regulatory ecosystem and a skew toward the service economy, what’s true in the UK can’t automatically be applied elsewhere.
Among the subjects Simms and Edmonds touch on are the “regrowth” of the middle class female workforce starting in the 1960s; the difficulties that a lack of childcare routinely creates for working women; the aging of the workforce as young people stay in school longer (delaying their entry into the labor marker) while at the same time older workers remain active in the labor market for longer; de-industrialization; labor unions; and the gig economy, which Simms sees as more about how work is allocated than a change in work itself.