Working lives and careers

This project is investigating working lives, careers and organisational practices in the third sector.

Recent debates about the third sector have tended to focus on the current opportunities for community development and service delivery. This project turns the spotlight on the inner workings and processes of third sector organisations and their workforces. It looks at the experiences of both volunteers and paid staff who must help communities and deliver services, as well as aspects such as organisational culture and change. The project aims to learn from the experiences of those currently working in the sector to help inform and shape its future.

Key questions

  • How do paid staff and volunteers come in to the sector and what are their experiences of working within it?
  • What types of organizational forms exist within the sector and how do paid and unpaid staff fare within these?
  • How are workplaces and workforces being shaped by the current recession?
  • How are longer term trends, such as bureaucratisation and professionalization, and wider social and economic changes, such as technological innovation and the expansion of women in the workforce affecting the sector?

Current work

The 2 year project involves in-depth study of 6 organisations around the UK. These have been carefully selected to represent some of the diversity of the sector in terms of size, age, location and sub-sector.

The researchers are currently in the phase of conducting fieldwork, which involves in-depth interviews and observations with their case study organisations. Emerging findings highlight the difference in opportunities and challenges faced by third sector organisations in different geographical locations.

A recent event ‘The Future of Work in the Third Sector’, hosted jointly by TSRC and the Work Futures Research Centre, University of Southampton, brought researchers, policy makers and practitioners together to explore the challenges and opportunities currently facing the sector.

Next steps

The researchers will shortly be publishing a working paper about what is currently known about working lives in the third sector and setting an agenda for future research. 

Following completion of the fieldwork, the findings will be published in a variety of formats to ensure that the experiences and knowledge of staff and volunteers feeds into practitioner, academic, policy and political debates about the future of the sector.

Research contacts
Susan Halford
Pauline Leonard
Katie Bruce

For more information please contact Katie Bruce at