Launch of The Future of Work Research Centre

It is great to see so many of you here this evening for this special occasion.

A colleague recently recommended an autobiography to me, detailing the career of a former sports presenter Des Lynam.

While I doubt that I will be reading it anytime soon, the title stuck with me.

‘I should have been at work’.

How wonderful.

Here was a person so absorbed in his career that the long hours, the pressure of live television, the niggling doubts and fears he felt were consumed by the sheer enjoyment of doing the job he loved.

That aspiration resonates with the key missions of this centre.

With rapid social changes and advances in technology, the future of work is not as clear as it used to be. There is a lot of uncertainty in many workplaces in the post-pandemic world

I congratulate Ying Zhou for her outstanding research in the areas of ob quality, occupation, and employee well-being. 

Her research has contributed significantly to the fabulous result of REF of the Surrey business school.  

Her vision and collaborations both at Surrey and internationally has led to the establishment of this centre of excellence, aiming to enhance performance and well-being for all employees by using cutting-edge research to help workplaces evolve and adapt to future challenges.

On the way here from my office I did a quick calculation.

I thought about how many hours I have spent at work in the last week and from that worked out what percentage of my life I’ve spent at work.

I suggest you try the same a little later! But don’t worry I will not collect the data at end of this event😊

I then asked myself this question and I encourage you to do the same.

For how much of that time (honestly) have I felt productive and fulfilled – and when I haven’t been, how has that impacted my life?

In a rapidly-changing world, reflection and self-analysis have never been so vital.

One of the joys of work is that we never stop learning.

Another joy is that each experience – positive or negative – is valuable.

I was asked recently about my first job and how it put me on track to where I am today.

I remember it with fondness.

At the age of eight I project-managed the construction of a three-bed family home in my village while my father was sick.  We needed volunteer labourers so I knocked on people’s doors and organised their roster once they’d agreed to help, swayed by the promise of my mother’s home-cooked meals.

The work was complete in six weeks. Not only did I get my father’s praises; the experience also instilled in me the early sparks for leadership, and what you can achieve by working with people passionately.

Sadly, we know this sense of fulfilment is not felt by everyone.

Mental Health Awareness Week earlier this month reminded that around one in seven people in the UK experience mental health problems in the workplace.

The contributory factors to this are many.

But we spend so many of our waking hours at work – and maybe some of our dreaming hours too – that we owe it to each other to create environments where people can live productive, happy and fulfilling lives.

This centre’s mission aligns with our university ambition to create the conditions for success so that everyone can thrive and feel valued.


Here at Surrey, we are also excited about how AI will help us address some of the challenges of our time such as inequality, sustainability and food security.

But we also recognise that people are anxious that AI will replace their jobs or exacerbate inequality or biases. That is precisely why we established ‘The Institute for People-Centred AI’, to put people at the hearts of AI development.

I am optimistic that technology will free people up within organisational structures to do more creative, interesting and valuable work.

I also envision a future where diversity, fairness and wellbeing are prized within an increasingly diverse workforce and everyone has the opportunity to succeed regardless of age, ethnicity or gender.

The pandemic has already drastically changed the way people work.

How do you manage performance of a team that is working both in-person and remotely? How do you reduce social isolation?

The answers to these questions are fundamental to understanding how work and conditions of employment will look in the future.

That is where Surrey comes in.

We are immensely proud of our record of preparing our graduates for the workplace and we will continue to build on that.

At the same time, we will use our research expertise to anticipate and understand the future challenges of the workplace.

In so doing, we can help build a fairer and more productive society.

I am sure you will find tonight’s four speakers illuminating and thought-provoking.

Again, I would like to thank Ying and everyone involved in organising tonight’s event.

Thank you.