Making Sure Work is Good For You

We look at research that suggests that more needs to be done to improve the quality of the work people do


Call for better ways of working

We look at why Tarani Chandola from Manchester University has called on employers to design better ways of working

Work, any work must be good?

Work, any sort of work, an activity that involves a mixture of physical and mental activity, and has the promise of a reward when it is completed, has, long been thought, got to be good for you.

Having a reason to get up in the morning, the mental and physical exertion, having other people who are relying on you and the social interaction, even when you’re arguing has got to be good for you.

Or at least better for you than sitting around with nothing to do other than watch day-time TV, surely?

Well yes, the negative impact of unemployment on both mental and physical health have been recognised for some time by the NHS.

No job is better than a bad job

But, it seems, to paraphrase some politicians view of Brexit, no job may be better than a bad job.

Unemployment may, for some people, be the better option. Research from Manchester University, has found that bad work can have a larger negative impact on a person’s health than being unemployed.

Bad work is bad for your health

Work involving stressful activities or those that are low paid are the most likely to have a detrimental effect on health, so if you have one of these types of jobs you may actually be better off, health wise, if you give up work.

1,000 workers involved in the research

During 2009 and 2010 Manchester University looked at how 1,000 people aged between 35 and 75 transitioned from unemployment into different types of work.

They used self-reporting and hormone and other stress biomarker tests to assess the impact these different types of work had on their health.

Their findings have been published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

The highest levels of chronic stress were clearly found in the people who had who moved into poor quality work.

They had stress levels higher than the people who had remained unemployed during the study.

The lowest levels of stress where found in those people who had found what the researchers described as good quality work.

Biggest impact is on mental health

The impact of quality of work on health seems to be focused on mental rather than physical health.

If a person found good quality work they were likely to show an improvement in mental health and people who found poor quality work had increased risks of a range of mental and physical health problems.

These findings are not as new or as radical as they may at first sound.

Temporary v permanent

The Institute for Public Policy Research has also identified that people in insecure or temporary employment are more likely to have mental health problems than those who enjoy the stability of being a permanent employee.

Design jobs with quality work activities

The leader of the research team Tarani Chandola, professor of medical sociology at the University of Manchester has called for employers to design jobs that include quality work activities

This she says is likely to impact the level of success that an individual has in that job.

The professor acknowledged the widely held view that good quality work is good for health, but called for greater acceptance of the negative impact that poor-quality work has on health.

Quality and quantity of work activities matter

Professor Sir Cary Cooper, president of the CIPD, and professor of organisational psychology and health at Manchester Business School, has said that good work involved more than just the activities of the job.

Having too much to do, being in an organisation with a culture of bullying or just not being able to see any way out of a bad job all contribute to what makes work poor-quality.

Maintaining Well-Being Strategies

Sir Cary predicted that maintaining good workplace health and well being strategies could become more difficult in the near future because of growing job insecurity and general economic uncertainty.

Well being confirms employees status as most important asset

He said that having an employee well being strategy is what supports an organisational statement that employees are its most important asset.

HR professionals, says Sir Cary, need to be more assertive in the board room when it comes to promoting the well being agenda.

Unemployment is not the answer

It seems very easy to blame employers for creating poor quality work.

Likewise it is far too simplistic to suggest that people who have poor-quality jobs should simply stop going in to work and visit the Job Centre Plus instead.

Every Job has Boring and Stressful Aspects

All jobs involve tasks that are boring, and all jobs involve activities that are stressful.

It is true that employers could improve the way in which they design jobs and how they manage their employees.

The aim must be to ensure that work with the potential to be good does not turn bad because of the non-work-related aspects of employment, which Cary Cooper described.

It is also important to acknowledge that employers like the suppliers of any product or service provide the jobs that people are prepared to accept.

If no one accepted job offers to do poor-quality work or walked out of jobs that made them unhappy the way in which work was organised would change quickly.

Personal Commitment

We should all take the rose-tinted glasses off and accept that it will be a long time before that happens.

But, employers mustn’t stop trying to help employers create work that people want to do because it helps them achieve their lifestyle aspirations at the same time as working towards the achievement of an organisations objectives.

Inspiration from Sir Richard Branson

As Sir Richard Branson is often quoted as saying managers should focus on making their employees happy, because:

  • happy employees are more productive,
  • they create happy customers
  • which creates happy shareholders…

That quote was made before Sir Richard took the Virgin Group back into private ownership, but no matter how long ago he said it, it continues to make a lot of sense.

Employers and employees must work together

The researchers at Manchester University did not tell us was what the people in poor quality work did to improve their situation.

  • It is too easy to feel despondent when you find yourself
  • in a bad job,
  • bored by the work you are doing,
  • disliking the people you work with,
  • hating your boss, and
  • knowing that you are capable of doing something else.

It is probable that everyone has felt that way at some point in every job that they have ever had.

It’s when the problem days outnumber the good days that you know something really needs to be done about it.


Government focus is on reducing unemployment

You can always buy a ticket for the lottery and hope for the best, because when you look around there doesn’t seem to be much help for people in work but poor-quality work and unhappy in that work.

The priority for the Government is to get unemployed people into employment.

That is part of the problem, the target doesn’t identify a difference between good and poor-quality work.

Just find them a job!

The fact is, that people who are unhappy at work do not have to simply accept that situation as their only option.

If you don’t like your job?

If you don’t like your job it is up to you to do something about it.

Decide what it is that you want to do and then do something that is going to help you

  • gain the skills,
  • develop the knowledge and
  • let’s be honest build the self-confidence

to take the steps that will enable you to obtain better work, ideally with your existing employer or if not at some other company.

Employers should act

Employers should investigate how improving the quality of the work their employees do might help to keep employees, improve their productivity and help the business to grow.

Instead of defining an employee by what they do today, it’s all about looking at what that employee, given the right skills, knowledge and self confidence, might be able to do tomorrow.