Job Quality - It's not just about having a job

This blog by OECD Economist Anne Saint-Martin, focuses on the “Well-being in the workplace: Measuring job quality” chapter of How's Life? 2013.

Workers in high-strain jobs, who don’t receive adequate support to cope with difficult work demands, are more likely to suffer from job burnout, to develop musculoskeletal disorders, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. The list is long, and worrying. A recent study published by Harvard researchers suggests that women in demanding and stressful jobs have a 38% increased risk of heart disease. Compared with those in low-strain jobs, their heart attack rates are also 67% higher.

This is worrying as high-strain jobs are relatively widespread. A recent OECD study shows that in Europe, 20% of employees report difficult working conditions, facing multiple job 'stressors' and little support or resources to deal with these. And half of those in high-strain jobs say work impairs their health, compared to only 15% for those in low-strain jobs. 

People spend most of their day and a significant part of their life at work. Employment does not only impact material living standards but it is also a powerful determinant of quality of life.

It is not just about having a job, it’s also about job quality.

So what are the elements that make up a quality job?

Interactions with colleagues, support from managers, work content, autonomy in decision-making, earnings and job security all contribute to well-being at work. Job quality is multifaceted.

In the current economic climate, job insecurity and in-work poverty are at the heart of policy debates in many OECD countries. But looking beyond these economic aspects and opening the Pandora ’s box of job quality remains a key challenge for economists and policymakers. Measuring well-being at the workplace, its determinants and its consequences on life quality, is not an easy task.

People may face a variety of stress factors at work, such as dealing with heavy workloads and time pressure, coping with conflicting demands, or performing physically demanding tasks. What impacts their well-being is both the accumulation of such 'stressors' and whether they are given a fair chance to meet these multiple requirements. Without well-defined work goals, sufficient work autonomy, support from colleagues and managers, demanding jobs can impair people’s health. But with adequate resources and support, they can be conductive to personal achievement.

In part due to an increasing awareness of work-related health problems among the public at large, well-being in the workplace has gained momentum in the public debate. This change has emerged alongside a wealth of research in occupational health, epidemiology, management and sociology, indicating that there is a strong relationship between job quality and peoples’ physical and mental health.

But comparing the quality of work organisation and that of workplace relationships over time and across countries remains difficult. This is a major obstacle to giving more prominence to these aspects of job quality in the policy debate, despite their importance for people’s well-being. Further work is needed to develop cross-country comparable indicators so as to identify best practices. This is on the OECD’s agenda as part of a major project on job quality: “Defining, Measuring and Assessing Job Quality and its Links to Labour Market Performance and Well-Being”.

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