April 19, 2017
It’s not just the nascent fourth industrial revolution that is challenging our traditional views of work, but also the growing realisation that we could be doing things so much better anyway. The author Douglas Coupland and the World Economic Forum are already holding conversations about the fundamental issues with work and how we go about it. At the heart of this is the very design of jobs and what it means for us and our wellbeing. Only 28 percent of people in the UK are highly satisfied with their jobs, and yet, estimates suggest that an adult in work would spend an average of 57 percent of their waking hours working. A new international study from the University of East Anglia and the What Works Centre for Wellbeing based on a review of 4,000 pieces of research claims to show why organisations often fail to improve staff wellbeing. It suggests that employees should be encouraged to design their own jobs, and find ways to help managers better understand their concerns.
The research looks across an international evidence base – from an initial pool of over 4,000 studies – to reveal which practical actions in the workplace are effective for improving wellbeing and performance – and which are not.
The authors claims that studies have shown that job type or industry sector are not necessarily defining factors of what makes a good job. Instead, things like how secure it is; our social connections; on-the-job learning opportunities; supportive organisations; and clear responsibilities are just some of the elements seen by employees as more important. When we move into a role with none, or fewer, of these elements, our life satisfaction drops. Even when we move out of unemployment and into work, how big an impact this has on our wellbeing depends on the quality of the job.
The new research, carried out by researchers at the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Business School as part of the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, reviewed studies of the practical actions organisations can take to maximise their chances of designing high quality jobs.
The What Works Centre for Wellbeing recommends that policy-makers create incentives for employers to develop high quality work, as well as guidance on how to do so. They point to the Management Standards for Work-Related Stress issued by the Health and Safety Executive, and suggest adapting them to include the evidence-based actions outlined in the review.
Nancy Hey, director of the The What Works Centre says: “The evidence shows us that getting employees involved in designing their own job means listening to their needs, supporting their development and training them where appropriate. Organisations need to look at how embedded wellbeing is in their DNA, not only within one department or champion. We want to see more discussion in workplaces about what a quality job looks like in that company.”
Professor Kevin Daniels, who leads the team that completed the review, says “We’ve known for a long time what a good quality job looks like and the benefits good quality work has for wellbeing, mental health, physical health and productivity. Our review adds to the evidence on what a good job quality is by pointing to some promising actions on how organisations can enhance the quality of work, wellbeing and performance.”