School of Business

Future of Work

Logo which reads 'future of work' on a yellow backgroundThe future of work is the subject of intense debate. This debate is shaped by multiple, overlapping “megatrends” which are seen as driving the evolution of—or revolutionary ruptures in—the world of work and employment.

The interdisciplinary Future of Work (FoW) cluster explores the potential for “sustainable work”, taking up debates on contemporary and emerging forms of work, as well as on concepts such as “decent” work. It also necessitates an exploration of the conceptions and experiences of work among workers themselves. It is an interdisciplinary cluster including researchers from the University of Leicester School of Business, as well the School of Law and the Leicester Medical School.

Megatrends at work

Exploring the following megatrends, through a critical re-examination of the employment relation, provides the thread linking our members together—and forms the starting point for the events initiated by FoW and the research we will develop.

Automation and digitisation

Recent breakthroughs in artificial intelligence have spurred claims that jobs previously resistant to automation—in areas such as software development, journalism, research, teaching, as well as healthcare and clinical practice—may now see significant labour-shedding change. However, this is not a simple story of the creation of post-work societies, whether utopian or dystopian. Emergent forms of automation potentially involve the negotiation of a new relationship between workers and technology in the workplace, new ‘spatial fixes’, whether that concerns global production networks or remote working, as well as enabling new types of employment relations.

Global value chains

Recent decades have seen the development of “complex global value chains”, consisting of networks of production in which multiple borders are crossed in the creation of a finished product. The rise of China as an assembly platform for tech goods is the most striking example. Yet these complex GVCs coexist with more simple variants, for instance those based on the nexus between modern Internet-based “fast fashion” outlets and forms of unregulated sweatshop labour. Alongside these new forms of production, traditional areas of work, such as logistics and warehousing, have achieved a new prominence. Neoliberalism in question: while much of the emphasis from the 1980s onwards has been on deregulation and state withdrawal, the state is today playing a more explicit role in employment. States have also sought, with different degrees of success, to impose some degree of regulation on new forms of work, such as in the gig economy, posing the possibility of labour market re-regulation alongside continued deregulation.


Associated with the changes to the world of work have come widespread debates about precarious and insecure forms of employment. While in the Global South there are longstanding discussions of marginalisation and informalisation, there are now also debates on the expansion of precarity in the Global North. These pose questions about the regulation of novel forms of labour, the relationship between subjectivities and the objective conditions of employment, and the nature of the contemporary firm. Demographic shifts and employment transitions: the long-term demographic transformation of the population of countries such as the UK has implications for work and employment. It affects transitions into and out of work, with, for instance, growing numbers of people delaying retirement. An older population also entails increased demand on healthcare and social care, leading to debates about the quality of work in these fields.

The return of industrial relations

even before the recent uptick in strike activity here in the UK, there was growing discussion on the potential for trade unions to revitalise themselves by connecting to new sections of the labour force. This has led to high profile unionisation drives, notably at Starbucks and Amazon in the US, and in tech giants such as Google.

Cluster Director

Cluster Director


We also have an extensive e-mail list. Please contact the directors, Joseph Choonara ( or Nik Hammer (, to be added or for more information about the FoW research cluster.


The Return of Strikes: Implications for Industrial Relations

A research event, hosted by the Future of Work research cluster at the University of Leicester

Date: Friday 24 November 2023
Time: 10:30am-4:00pm
Venue: Hybrid - University of Leicester campus and online via Teams

Britain has, over the past year and a half, experienced its highest level of strike action since the 1980s. There have been similar upsurges in industrial action in many other countries, including France, Portugal and the US. This inaugural research event of the new Future of Work research cluster at the University of Leicester, will discuss the implications of the recent uptick in strike action for the theory and practice of industrial relations. The event will consist of two panels and is open to academics and to all those with an interest in work, employment, and industrial relations.

Session 1: The strike wave in Britain and its implications (11:00am-12:45am)
With Professor Jane Holgate (University of Leeds) and Professor Ralph Darlington (Salford University)

Session 2: Surveying the terrain, strikes in the US, France and beyond (1:45pm-3:30pm)
With Eric Blanc (Rutgers, US) and Kevin Guillas-Cavan (IRES, France), and Lisa Sezer (Leicester) as discussant.

The event will be in a hybrid format: in person on the main campus of the University of Leicester and via Teams online. Once registered, you will be sent venue details or a link for Teams as appropriate.


Jane Holgate is Professor of Employment Relations at the University of Leeds. She is the author of Arise: Power, Strategy and Union Resurgence (Pluto, 2021) and co-editor of Union Voices: Developing Organizing in the UK (Ithaca, 2012). She has held a number of positions in the trade union movement and has worked on research projects with trade unions, including the GMB, TGWU, CWU, Bectu, Usdaw and the Trades Union Congress.

Ralph Darlington is Emeritus Professor of Employment Relations at Salford University, Fellow and Honorary Member of the British Universities Industrial Relations Association. He is editor of What’s the Point of Industrial Relations: In Defence of Critical Social Science (BUIRA, 2009), and author of Radical Unionism: The Rise and Fall of Revolutionary Syndicalism (Haymarket, 2013), Glorious Summer: Class Struggle in Britain 1972 (Bookmarks, 2001, with Dave Lyddon), and Labour Revolt in Britain 1910-14 (Pluto, 2023).

Eric Blanc is an assistant professor of labour studies at Rutgers University. He is the author of Red State Revolt: The Teachers’ Strike Wave and Working-Class Politics (Verso, 2019) and Revolutionary Social Democracy: Working-Class Politics Across the Russian Empire, 1882-1917 (Haymarket, 2022).

Kevin Guillas-Cavan is an economist working in Paris at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (IRES). His studies focus on industrial relations and trade union strategy, especially at the firm level.

Lisa Sezer is a lecturer in work and employment at the University of Leicester School of Business and a member of the Future of Work research cluster.

For further information email Joseph Choonara (


Academic publications 

  • Humphries, N., Creese, J., McDermott, A. M., Colleran, G., McDermott, C., & Byrne, J. P. (2024). ‘That's just how medicine is’: A remote ethnographic study of Ireland's failure to meet the core work needs of its hospital doctors. SSM-Qualitative Research in Health, 100392.

  • Carter, B., Armstrong, P., Smith, C., and Nichols, T. (2023) [1986] White Collar Workers: Trade Unions and Class (Croom Helm)

  • Montgomery, A., Lainidi, O., Johnson, J., Creese, J., Baathe, F., Baban, A., ... & Vohra, V. (2023). Employee silence in health care: Charting new avenues for leadership and management. Health Care Management Review, 48(1), 52-60

  • Wei, W. (2023). Never cross the red line? Analysing employment relations practices and the behaviour of front‐line managers in Chinese McDonald's stores. Industrial Relations Journal, 1–19.

  • Hammer, N. (2023) Searching for institutions: Upgrading, private compliance, and due diligence in European apparel value chains, Transfer, 29(3), 371-386,

  • Hammer, N. (2023) Exhaust and switch: Labour and the garment industry in global production networks, 521-533, in: Atzeni M., Azzellini D., Mezzadri A, Moore P. and U. Apitzsch (eds) Handbook of Research on the Global Political Economy of Work (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar)

  • Wei Wei, Jörg Nowak & Steve Rolf (2023) Leapfrog logistics: digital trucking platforms, infrastructure, and labor in Brazil and China, Review of International Political Economy, DOI: 10.1080/09692290.2023.2267074
  • Humphries, N., Byrne, J. P., Creese, J., & McKee, L. (2022). ‘Today Was Probably One of the Most Challenging Workdays I’ve Ever Had’: Doing remote qualitative research with hospital doctors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Qualitative Health Research, 32(10), 1557-1573.

  • Moore, P. V. and Roy, C. (2022) Advancing arguments on technology, work and the body, in the global political economy. Global Political Economy, 1(1), 108-121.

  • Carter, B., and Choonara, J. (2022) Harry Braverman, the Continuing Value of Harry Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capital, Historical Studies in Industrial Relations 43, DOI: 10.3828/hsir.2022.43.9
  • Choonara, J., Murgia, A., and Carmo, R M., (eds), 2022, Faces of Precarity: Critical Perspectives on Work, Subjectivities and Struggles(Bristol University Press)
  • Brook, P. and Carter, B. (2021) ‘Clase, proceso de trabajo y explotación’, in M. Atzeni et al. Clase, proceso de trabajo y reproducciónsocial: ampliando las perspectivas de los estudios laborales

  • Byrne, J. P., Creese, J., Matthews, A., McDermott, A. M., Costello, R. W., & Humphries, N. (2021). ‘… the way it was staffed during COVID is the way it should be staffed in real life…’: a qualitative study of the impact of COVID-19 on the working conditions of junior hospital doctors. BMJ open, 11(8), e050358.

  • Baines, D., Cunningham, I., James, P. and Roy, C. (2021) Privatizing the sacrifice: individualized funding, austerity and precarity in the voluntary sector in Australia and Scotland. In S. McBride, B. Evans and D. Plehwe (Ed.), The Changing Politics and Policy of Austerity. Bristol: Policy Press, pp. 82 -102.

  • Tartanoglu Bennett, S., Hammer, N. and J. Jenkins (2021) Rights without remedy: the disconnection of labour across multiple scales and domains, Work in the Global Economy, 1(1-2), 75-93,

  • Creese, J., Byrne, J. P., Matthews, A., McDermott, A. M., Conway, E., & Humphries, N. (2021). “I feel I have no voice”: hospital doctors' workplace silence in Ireland. Journal of Health Organization and Management, 35(9), 178-194.

  • Cunningham, I., Lindsay, C. and C. Roy (2021) Diaries from the front line—Formal supervision and job quality among social care workers during austerity, Human Resource Management Journal 31(1), 187-201.
  • Pulignano, V., Hammer, N. and Doerflinger, N. (2021) Explaining Employment Effects in Multipolar Value Chains: A Cross‐National Study on Soft Drinks and Dairy Manufacturing in Europe, British Journal of Industrial Relations, 59: 25-51.
  • Humphries, N., McDermott, A. M., Creese, J., Matthews, A., Conway, E., & Byrne, J. P. (2020). Hospital doctors in Ireland and the struggle for work–life balance. European Journal of Public Health, 30(Supplement_4), iv32-iv35.

  • Carter, B. (2020) ‘After the Long Boom: The Reconfiguration of Work and Labour in the Public Sector’, Historical Studies in Industrial Relations, 41(1),

  • Almond, P. and Connolly, H. (2020) A manifesto for “slow” comparative research in work and employment, European Journal of Industrial Relations, 26 (1), 59-74.
  • Choonara, J. (2020) The evolution of generalised and acute job tenure insecurity, Work, Employment & Society 34(4). 713-725.
  • Roy, D., Weyman, A. K., Plugor, R., & Nolan, P. (2020) Institutional commitment and aging among allied health care professionals in the British National Health Service, Health Services Management Research, online first.
  • Choonara, J. (2019) Insecurity, Precarious Work and Labour Markets: Challenging the Orthodoxy. Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Foureaux Koppensteiner, M., Matheson, J. and Plugor, R. (2019) Understanding Access Barriers to Public Services: Lessons from a Randomized Domestic Violence Intervention. Sheffield Economic Research Paper Series no. 2019013, University of Sheffield.
  • Hammer, N. and R. Plugor (2019) Disconnecting Labour? The Labour Process in the UK Fast Fashion Value Chain, Work, Employment and Society.
  • Sezer, L.A. (2019) Employers’ Organisations as Social Movements: Political power, and identity-work, Human Resource Management Journal, 19(1): 67–81.
  • Venter, K. Currie, D. and McCracken, M. (2019) ‘You can’t win’: The non-profit double-bind and experiences of organisational contradictions in the non-profit and voluntary sector, Work, Employment and Society Vol 33, no 2, 244-261.
  • Venter, K. (2018) Volunteering identities: the role of volunteering in creating, maintaining and developing identities Work, Employment and Society Conference 2018 Belfast 12-14 September.
  • Roy, C., Scholarios, D., and Taylor, P. (2017) ‘The recession has passed but the effects are still with us’: Employment conditions, work organization and employee experiences in post-crisis Indian BPO. In E. Noronha and P. D'Cruz (Eds.), Critical perspectives on work and employment in globalizing India. Singapore: Springer, pp. 57-80.


  • Wei Wei received a CIPD Professor Mick Marchington Research Grant to examine the role of actors and social contexts in the digital HRM (2023).
  • ESRC Impact Acceleration Award "East Midlands Partnership for Health Workforce Retention (EMPEROR)" 2023-24 (Dr W Wang, Dr J Creese, Dr M Karanika-Murray and Prof K Harris), £10,000
  • Invisible women, invisible workers? Focusing a gendered lens on health and safety in the global garment industry (2022-26, funded through the MRC; PI Sabina Lawreniuk, University of Nottingham; CoI Nikolaus Hammer, University of Leicester),

Reports and Public Engagement

PhD Supervision

  • Work and employment
  • Labour process theory
  • Health and social care workforce
  • Precarious employment and insecurity
  • Global value chains
  • Garment and fashion value chain
  • Social standards and enforcement in supply chains
  • International HRM
  • Employers’ organisations
  • The political economy of labour markets
  • Work in the non-profit and voluntary sector
  • Platform work
  • Employment relations/industrial relations

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