The Future of Care is the Future of Work

Stuart Sumner-Smith works at Swansea MAD as a Senior Employability Officer. He is passionate about access for all and working for a more equitable world. He blogs about futurism, digital and employability.

Post pandemic, care and well being is at the forefront of working. Why: post-pandemic, people want better care and wellbeing.

However, essential service workers aren’t paid enough to be able to work and live. Basic care is breaking down in the UK. Systems that support workers are breaking down. Service workers aren’t paid enough to be able to get their work from their houses – employers aren’t caring enough.

But to work, care—in all of its forms— needs to be disconnected from the market. It needs to be disconnected from market forces such as supply and demand, speculation and expectation. Care needs to stand alone in our society for work to function

Lynne Pettinger states that we should start looking at care work instead of industrial production to understand work better. 

Care work includes taking care of people like child care, elder care, and healthcare.

It’s important for all human life and wellbeing, it’s often undervalued and underpaid. Considering the importance of care it’s difficult to believe healthcare workers and child care workers are paid very little for vital work? Why is it so undervalued? 

If we were to start understanding work from the perspective of care , then we would begin to see the importance and value of care in a different light. We would recognise that care is essential for the wellbeing of individuals and communities, and for the functioning of society as a whole.

Caring is often undervalued and marginalised in the economy, as it is often associated with “domestic” tasks. 

In reality caring is essential for the functioning of the economy, and that it should be recognised as such. What would happen if all care was stopped? 

For Pettinger, care work involves not only the provision of physical and emotional care for individuals, but also the creation of relationships and social networks that support individuals and communities. In this sense, care work is essential for the wellbeing of individuals and the functioning of society as a whole.

Pettinger also highlights the gendered nature of care work, and argues that the devaluation of care work is closely linked to gender inequality in the workplace. She suggests that addressing this inequality requires not only recognising the importance of care work, but also challenging traditional gender roles and stereotypes.

There’s plenty of hard evidence to indicate employers should be focusing on care to retain workforce and prevent churn. 

Since the pandemic, approximately 600,000 workers have exited the UK workforce, despite there being a robust demand for labour. There has been an increase in long-term sickness absence, both due to COVID-19 and mental health concerns among younger employees.

I’m not suggesting that everybody should get a job in care although there’s a shortage. We should value these roles more in terms of pay and conditions as they underpin the very fabric of our lives.

This trend has been observed more prominently in the lower-paid and face-to-face service sectors, resulting in a rise in early retirements as well

The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of care work, particularly in the healthcare industry. Healthcare workers have been on the front lines of the pandemic, risking their own health and well-being to care for others. 

Yet, many healthcare workers are paid very little and do not receive the support and resources that they need to do their jobs effectively.

As per a survey conducted on 52,000 employees across 44 countries and territories, it has been found that 20% of workers intend to resign in 2022. This indicates that the trend of the Great Resignation, which commenced in 2021, is likely to persist (PWC’s Global Workforce).

Post-pandemic there’s been a growing recognition of how important it is to take care of workers’ wellbeing, both physical and mental. Employers are realising that happy, healthy workers are more productive and engaged, which is better for everyone. There are a ton of ways employers can support their workers.

According to recent studies, workers are increasingly willing to switch jobs if their current employer doesn’t prioritise their wellbeing. In fact, 59% of workers have indicated that they would be open to considering a new job offer if it came with better wellbeing benefits than their current position. This trend emphasises the growing importance of companies taking care of their employees’ mental and physical health in order to retain top talent. Employers who fail to provide adequate wellbeing benefits risk losing valued workers to competitors who prioritise their employees’ well-being.

Employers will need to focus on their workers’ wellbeing to attract and keep the best employees. This means shifting from a traditional focus on productivity to a more holistic view that takes care of workers’ needs. Also if care has an important part to play in work, this would almost certainly need to be mirrored and  reflected in our pre-work systems such as education. 

Further reading:

“The Social Construction of Work: A Reader”, Lynne Pettinger 

A Good Idea”. 2022. Deloitte Insights.

Hopes and Fears Survey 2022.” 2022. PwC.