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Job quality: how can HR raise the bar?
From the Taylor Review on ‘Good Work,’ to the government’s Thriving at Work report on mental health, never has there been so much governmental focus on defining what we as human beings need from the workplace in order to prosper. This is fantastic news for workers across the country as we increasingly recognise, as a society, that quality work is essential to human wellbeing. Organisations themselves are looking to improve job quality to contribute to this agenda. Here, we look at what they should do.
Definitions of job quality vary, from the purely economic to multi-dimensional definitions that encompass many features of modern workplaces that we celebrate as particularly progressive.
The Dublin Foundation, for example, defines job quality purely on hourly wage, while Schmid (2006) points to the right to training, occupational redeployment, work-life balance and the right to select your own working hours as key features of job quality.
Some commentators take a more ambiguous approach, such as Green et al (2013), who define job quality as simply “a set of features that help to meet jobholders’ needs from work.” This is reflective of increasing recognition that people’s needs at work vary considerably.
In our article on the Taylor Review, we recognise that people have different priorities at work and that we must, as responsible organisations, ensure we focus on giving everyone the same opportunities across society so they can choose jobs that suit their needs.
With this in mind, the best way to increase job quality is to look at the dimensions that affect people’s experience of work and do our best to ensure they have control and choice over these dimensions.
We’ll have a look at some of these dimensions. For each one, we’ll look at the variation in what people may consider preferential to illustrate that job quality can mean different things to different people.
Safe, secure and productive environment
A quality job is one in which the physical environment is not hazardous or detrimental to health and, beyond this, that it facilitates good work, physical wellbeing and psychological wellbeing through its design. Some people may have specific needs from the workplace: we’ve written before, for example, on ways you can shape the physical environment to encourage resilience among introverts.
High-quality jobs will enable employees to mix up their working environment to suit their personal and professional needs.
Job security can mean different things: that the person can act honestly and authentically in the workplace without fear of losing their job, or that they have a contract in place that guarantees them their job cannot be ended abruptly or without due course. It can also mean that their salary is defined and paid regularly to enable them to meet their financial commitments.
A quality job is one in which the physical environment is not hazardous or detrimental to health and, beyond this, that it facilitates good work.
At its base level, work-life balance means that work is not an unassailable hurdle to employees meeting their own psychological and personal needs outside of work. But work-life balance should go further, empowering and enabling employees to self-actualise in ways unique to them.
Work-life balance is a bit of a misnomer here as for some employees it may be more like work-life integration, allowing them to blur the boundaries to suit their personal goals (such as a parent splitting their working day so they can pick their children up from school).
Remuneration must be fair and equitable for the job being done, such as paying salaries that are benchmarked against market rates. Paying the voluntary Living Wage could also be seen as a good sign of basic job quality.
Note that fair reward can be a very personal thing: for particularly unpleasant jobs, for example, the theory of compensating differentials suggests people will need to be paid more, while someone who considers the non-financial benefits of the job to be particularly positive may accept a lower salary as a result.
Some people find slower work frustrating, while others hate the pressure associated with high-intensity work. For a job to be high-quality, the pace of work must not go beyond an individual’s coping mechanisms or it can rapidly lead to stress, anxiety and poor productivity.
This can often come down to personality type but also the way in which people make decisions. People who learn by doing may be able to cope with higher work intensity than those who require more upfront planning time.
Training and development
Quality jobs give people the opportunity to develop both as individuals and as professionals. This can be informal and formal, such as opportunities in the work itself to innovate and try new methods, along with formal training courses that may or may not lead to recognised qualifications.
At the base level, training and development should help bolster the individual’s value in the marketplace, which is linked to job security. Learning choice signifies a high-quality job, where employees can learn in ways most suited to them, from elearning to classroom training.
Remuneration must be fair and equitable for the job being done, such as paying salaries that are benchmarked against market rates.
Job quality is contingent on the work being interesting, but of course people have different passions, goals and dreams and this - luckily for society - means that different types of work are interesting to different people. However, within jobs, highly repetitive or monotonous work can be psychologically damaging and lead to conditions such as RSI if the tasks are physical.
Diverse, stimulating tasks are a bedrock of quality work. Job crafting, where employees can mould their jobs around tasks they find particularly engaging, is a sign of high job quality.