The Lens


Trust, trades unions and tech: what does it mean to have a good job?

Season 2, Ep. 12

In this episode of The Lens our host Oli Barrett MBE sits down for a conversation with Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of The Trades Union Congress (TUC) and Sasha Howard, a Product Manager at Freeformers - a start up on a mission to change the digital economy for all.

The TUC comprises 48 member unions and throughout the episode Frances details how the congress supports and assists individuals and businesses, from artists and engineers to supermarket staff and teachers. Freeformers is a member of Business In The Community and was nominated for the Fujitsu Digital Innovation Award by BITC for its unique work with companies across the UK.

Oli and our guests discuss ‘good work’ - what it is and what it means, how technology might change how businesses operate in the future, the right kind versus the wrong kind of support at work, employee surveillance, zero hours contracts, women leaders, wellbeing and how we might all really enjoy our jobs. Let's get to the conversion...

Time Stamps

[01:20] Sasha introduces Freeformers and explains the premise of the company. [02:00] She then details the beginning of her working journey, working at a hairdressers in the small town in Sussex where she grew up to then being employed by a retail bank and the subsequent opportunities [03:19] afforded to her there. [04:19] Sasha tells Oli about her route into work and discusses how she was once embarrassed about not attending university. [05:25] She offers advice on what she did to secure her role at the bank and how being adaptable has helped her to move forward. [6:11] Sasha then explains Freeformers' projects in more detail and tells Oli and Frances about some of the tensions she observes in workplaces with regards to upskilling and technology. [08:44] Oli asks his guests their thoughts on whether tech is a threat or a blessing in many industries. [10:03] Sasha then describes how mindset is essential in the training and workshops offered by Freeformers and how a growth mindset has helped her. [10:54] Oli and Sasha discuss economic equality, stress and rewarding work.

[12:44] Oli asks Frances about her journey, where it began and her formative jobs. [13:42] Frances recalls her favourite and least favourite jobs during the '70s and '80s. [16:00] She then explains the origins of her interest in union work, organising businesses and standing up for the rights of others. [17:29] Frances describes how the TUC works, who it supports and how, for the first time, the majority of its members are women. [19:04] Frances also highlights how work is changing, leaders are changing and new technologies mean that workers need support at every level. [19:37] 'What gives you cause for concern?' asks Oli, discussing the treatment of workers by large tech firms. [20:22] 'To feel like you are a unit of labour rather than a human being. That has to change.' Frances replies. [21:41] Frances describes the issues that many workers on zero hours contracts face [22:04] and the positive shift that a four day working week may have the power to create. [24:35] She also details how unstable contracts affect women at work. making them potentially more vulnerable. [26:23] Sasha discusses the importance of trust, flexibility and autonomy and she, Sasha and Oli discuss how this could be scalable for all employees. [28:59] Frances then talks about the power of surveillance at work and the darker side of using employee data.

[35:02] 'Again I think the international evidence shows us that you can boost productivity by sweating people, turning the screw, paying them peanuts, you can do it that way or you can do it by making them feel valued, involved, listened to, taken seriously, feeling safe, respected.' says Frances. [37:06] She and Sasha discuss luck and opportunity and finding a purpose through work. [39:56] Oli asks both guests for advice they'd give their younger selves [43:59] and for their thoughts on nepotism and opportunity. [48:55] Frances outlines the TUC's goals for the year ahead. [50:43] Oli asks Sasha and Frances Who they'd most like to meet for a coffee and which books they'd recommend for The Lens Reading List.

The Lens Reading List 

Frances O’Grady recommends Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, a book by Shoshanna Zuboff. Sasha Howard recommends The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F**K: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, a book by Mark Manson.

The Lens Podcast

Powered by Fujitsu, supported by McCann and in partnership with One Young World, The Lens represents the breadth, diversity and priorities of the responsible business agenda. From gender equality to zero hours contracts, learning on the factory floor to activist businesses, The Lens covers a range of topics from a host of varying perspectives. 

Each episode brings together a business and future leader to foster disruptive conversations and fresh connections. Innovators and CEOs join Oli Barrett in the studio for a unique conversation covering their journeys, lessons learned, advice, insight and of course, the inspirational person they’d most like to meet for coffee. 

Business in the Community is The Prince's Responsible Business Network. We convene a unique network of purposeful leaders to share insight, expertise and create innovative programmes that deliver impact. Together our ambition is to make the UK the world leader at responsible business. 

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