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Only good work is healthy work

So far, the case has been made, that work is good for health and well-being. However, work itself does not guarantee happiness.

In fact the Scottish Social Values Survey showed that among the five indicators used to measure well-being (life, happiness, standard of living, family and job satisfaction) the area that consistently scored least was job satisfaction. We have also seen that job satisfaction is an important contributor to life satisfaction in total. So the second question we have to ask here is why and which people are reporting low job satisfaction.

However, we also need not to forget that in the UK as a whole there is much more job satisfaction than dissatisfaction. But, there are studies that have shown the decrease of job satisfaction over the last 10-15 years (Coats & Max, 2005): people perceive they have more work to do (they have less time now) and they have to work harder to do it (work intensity increased). Also, perceived job insecurity seems to be higher than 10-15 years ago. Significant falls in happiness with pay, job prospects and training were reported as well.

Researchers hypothesize that this is due to the fact that some characteristics that constitute a good job have decreased over the last years. Good jobs are not merely characterized by the absence of risk factors for health for which there generally is good legislation in place throughout Europe.

The following characteristics contribute to good or healthy vs. bad jobs.

Negative factors

  • Employment is insecure
  • Work is monotonous and repetitive
  • Workers have little or no autonomy, control and task discretion
  • There is an imbalance between effort and reward so that workers feel exploited or ‘taken for granted’
  • There are few supportive social networksThere is an absence of procedural justice in the workplace i.e. workers cannot be confident that they will be fairly treated by their employer.
  • There is an absence of procedural justice in the workplace i.e. workers cannot be confident that they will be fairly treated by their employer.

Positive factors

  • Safety
  • Job security
  • Fair pay
  • Control and autonomy
  • Personal fulfillment and development; investing in human capital
  • Good communications
  • Accommodating, supportive & non-discriminatory

With regard to job satisfaction and designing healthy work places two further issues are important to note:

  • There is substantial evidence that the factors above influence people`s job satisfaction and characterize a healthy workplace. It is important to note though that individual characteristics also account for people`s job satisfaction. Different personalities seek different amounts of autonomy and control, demand levels etc. in their work and attention has to be paid to an individual`s characteristics. Furthermore it has to be acknowledged that many of the factors or dimensions generally contributing to job and work satisfaction carry the possibility of “having too much of a good thing”, e.g. personal control, variety or opportunity for skill use. There needs to be a sufficient level of those features in accordance with individual characteristics but too much of a specific job feature can cause distress just like not enough of it can do so (Kahnemann, et al., 1999).
  • We also have to acknowledge that individuals show certain tendencies in the way they evaluate their environment and how satisfied or dissatisfied they are. Some of us are more positive or negative than others and we are so across different life situations and states. This is called an individual`s affective disposition. Although this is a relatively stable trait of a person it might well be worth for each individual to try to invest into a (more) positive disposition because people with a positive affective disposition tend to be more satisfied with their jobs (especially intrinsic job characteristics like control, demand, skills utilization) than people with a negative affective disposition (Kahnemann, et al., 1999).
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