Bad Jobs versus Unemployment

The fact that having a job provides us with an income, social contact, security, and a sense of purpose is undeniable. Furthermore, having a job has also been shown to be related to increased health and wellbeing. However, a paper published by the National Centre for Health at the Australian National University suggests that some jobs are better for us than others, with the “quality” of a job being pivotal to determining whether it is harmful or beneficial to our health. Jobs that are poorly organised, where there is excessive demand, an employee has little control over what one’s work involves, and where employees are concerned about the security of future employment, can be as harmful to one’s health as having no job at all.

What’s interesting is that the effects of these work stressors are not confined to any specific level of job, and in fact they operate independently of job status and income. Work stressors can have a harmful impact at all levels, including managerial and professional roles. This doesn’t mean that anyone who feels a little under pressure at times should throw in the towel and quit their job, but this research got me thinking about working conditions. Why do people stay in poor quality jobs? For some, it may be a matter of deciding which is the lesser evil, a poor quality job or unemployment?

In the last quarter of 2011, the unemployment rate in New Zealand was at 6.6%.  But this research suggests that people in poorly organised roles, jobs lacking control, and in which they feel insecure, are likely to be just as badly off (in terms of their health) as that 6.6% of unemployed individuals.  With the current state of the economy and the rising cost of living expenses, I’m guessing that a lot of people may be willing to put up with significantly more negative factors in their current roles, than they might during better economic times. Some people may also be putting up with poor working conditions in their job as it is a stepping stone to another, more desirable role. Others may not be aware of the impact that their job is having on their health and wellbeing, or may not realise another role may be more fulfilling.

While unemployment is an important statistic, do we also need to consider the quality of work that is being offered? What proportion of Kiwis are working in poor quality jobs and what impact does this have on their lives? What responsibilities rest on the shoulders of employers in terms of improving the quality of work? 


One thought on “Bad Jobs versus Unemployment

  1. Paul Wood

    Really thought provoking blog Sarah. It is a good reminder that individual attributes are not the only consideration in performance. As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about such attributes I often end up giving job design less consideration than it really deserves. I suppose this is all part of that tendency to blame the individual for isolated poor performance, and blame the manager/leader for more systematic/widespread poor performance. Seems to me you’re suggesting we shouldn’t forget the actual design of the role and workplace when considering potentially contributing factors. Once again, great reminder Sarah.


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