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Fair Work, Job Quality and the Pandemic

Fair Work, Job Quality and the Pandemic

What is Fair Work?

There are 3 broad elements to consider:

  1. Employment Quality: the formal terms and conditions of your work e.g. how secure your job is, how secure your income is, how reliable your work schedule is.
  2. Work Quality: is your work satisfying/challenging? Do you feel engaged with it and dedicated to it? Do you have control over your work?
  3. Workplace Quality: the quality of governance and decision making in organisations, the extent to which employees are part of decision making and are communicated with and consulted.

Scotland’s Fair Work Convention has operationalised the 3 elements above into the 5 Scottish Fair Work Dimensions:

  • Effective voice
  • Opportunity
  • Security
  • Fulfilment
  • Respect

What role does Fair Work have to play in the Pandemic and beyond?

Fair work is important in its own right because it is essential for wellbeing and it promotes a fairer economy and society through inclusive growth. There are also however, three outcomes of fair work that are particularly important for employers given the challenges they currently face:

  1. It promotes workplace innovationwhich can play a vital role in enabling businesses to create the new ideas needed to evolve and adapt in order to cope with uncertainty
  2. It promotes discretionary behaviours. Employees are more likely to go above and beyond in jobs where they fairly treated and rewarded – many businesses are finding this enhanced effort invaluable in their recovery
  3. It promotes trustwhich is highly associated with business performance – particularly business performance during times of change

Measuring Job Quality

So how do you go about measuring job quality? Here are a couple of key considerations to think about:

  1. Focus on the objective features of the job – Research has shown that what people consider to be fair/good varies depending on various factors including, gender, ethnicity, region and age (even when jobs are objectively the same). It’s therefore necessary to focus on the objective features of jobs because what workers feel about their jobs (while important in its own right) is a poor measure of job quality.
  2. Job quality should be considered as a dashboard of dimensions. As noted above, there are a variety of job attributes – some jobs will be very good in some respects yet very poor in others – it’s therefore important to build as full a picture as possible.

Developments in Job Quality and Fair Work

When considering job creation, policy makers face the challenge of balancing job quantity (how many jobs are available) and job quality (how they measure up to the standards discussed above). Job quality was put firmly back on the agenda by the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 paving the way for a swathe of interest from various groups and areas including:

Despite these developments, the UK, even pre-pandemic, was facing an imbalance. Although employment levels were high, there were rising levels of low paid work and unsecure work (including zero-hour contracts and people working in the gig economy) alongside high levels of underemployment (where workers skills are underutilised). Low quality work such as this has considerable negative consequences for the wider society and has the potential to hinder the economic recovery process now required. It often needs to be subsidised by the welfare system because it doesn’t provide people with a steady, sufficient income, it impacts negatively on tax generation and it produces poorer health which places additional strain on the NHS.

 Summing up

Fair work has an important role to play not only in helping businesses navigate the challenges they currently face but also in guiding us to build back better and create a fairer world of work for the future avoiding focusing on job quantity alone at the expense of job quality.

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Nicola Murray is one of the Knowledge Exchange Associates for the PrOPEL Hub, she is based in the Scottish Centre for Employment Research at the University of Strathclyde. Nicola has conducted research on employee wellbeing and also has experience as a consultant specialising in organisational culture.

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