New approach needed to protect more workers in the 21st century

A new three-year partnership between the Smith School and Zurich Insurance Group (Zurich) has been launched today. The study will look at the potential for developing frameworks involving different stakeholders, so more workers are provided with flexible protection and financial support in an increasingly fragmented labor market.

The Agile Protection program launches with a statement report examining recent labor market trends and the current systems in place to support people. The report stresses that these systems need to be rethought in the context of a 21st century landscape of work and retirement. This includes established insurance models that are designed around traditional career paths and have concentrated on supporting people at specific phases in their lives.

Those entering the labor market today will typically switch employers several times throughout their careers. We are seeing an increase in the use of different types of employment contracts, such as gig workers in the sharing economy; and increased longevity is extending working lives and creating a growing need for career breaks for responsibilities like caring. These factors mean many people are lacking any kind of financial safety net to support them now and as they approach retirement.

Professor Gordon L. Clark, who is leading the research said "Our research programme with Zurich has produced remarkable insights about human behaviour with relevance for a wide variety of issues concerning how people value the future. The new project takes our ambitions further into the emerging trends in the world of work and long-term well being. Again, these issues have enormous implications for thinking about labour markets, well-being and country-specific institutions and policies."

Dr Sarah McGill, co-director of the Zurich-Oxford research programme, said: 'The report launching today is agenda-setting for our research project, and also contributes to wider discussions about the future of work. It highlights the considerable strains on social protection systems today and the uncertainties confronting workers trying to secure their finances in a changing labour market landscape. At the same time, it is a reminder that we aren't facing an unprecedented situation: history shows that mass unemployment due to technological change is unlikely - and that it is not beyond the ingenuity of a society capable of producing such technological progress to modernise its social protection systems. One key challenge in designing new frameworks will be tailoring protections to individual circumstances without abandoning the principle of risk pooling which underpins social insurance. Going forward, our research aims to shed light on how this and other issues can be addressed.'

Gary Shaughnessy, Chair of the Z Zurich Foundation, said: "The launch of Agile Protection, builds on the extensive work we have already published on income protection gaps and the challenges that these bring to people, society, business and governments. These are currently exacerbated by uncertainty in the economy, higher levels of consumer debt and stretched welfare budgets."

"At the same time, the dramatic shifts we are seeing in our workplaces present us with a clear need for more social protection and for flexible types that can be tailored to support people throughout their working lives regardless of where and how they choose to work."

"The responsibility for delivering solutions needs a coordinated approach between individuals, employers, governments and insurers. Through Agile Protection, we are looking to develop workable models that reflect and meet the needs of today's workforce, providing more people with the support they need."

Key milestones for the Agile Protection research program include:

  • Two multi-country surveys, one examining consumers' behaviors when engaging with insurance and exploring their behavioral tendencies to help improve product and service design. The second will look at the priorities of employers when it comes to protecting their employees and the extent to which they recognize worker risks as part of their broader management framework - for publication in Q3 2019.
  • A series of recommendations to improve financial protection for individuals including those in non-traditional employment, governments, employers, insurers and other financial institutions and intermediaries, as well as individuals and households - for publication Q3 2020.


Statement report | Social protection: from fragile to agile. Towards a more flexible, secure and fair system. | October 2018