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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of the most important trends in work and employment over the past 50 years. Design/methodology/approach – The paper adopted the 50-year perspective in line with the celebration of Manchester Industrial Relations Society’s 50th anniversary. The approach adopted was to include both observable changes in work and employment and changes in the perspectives found in published research. Findings – The key trends identified were feminisation, flexibilisation, fragmentation and financialisation. These were the outcome of, on the one hand, global trends towards services, transnationalisation and transformative technologies and, on the other hand, of political choices to deregulate, decollectivise and depoliticise the employment relationship. Originality/value – The value lies in exploring the key trends in the world of work over a significant period of time, identifying the drivers behind the changes and reflecting on the implications for future prospects in work and employment.