JOB CONTENT IS AS IMPORTANT AS SKILLS
Criteria for job quality
Healthy and productive work
Poor quality job content (e.g., tasks with high demands/low control and little variety) is contrary to human dignity and human rights (‘just and favourable conditions of work’, art. 23) and does not comply with Sustainable Development Goal 8 (Decent Work) nor with European and national legislation. It poses a risk to physical and mental health, entails costs for organisations and society, does not create sustainable employability, contributes to staff shortages, and leads to wastage of talent and sub-optimal organisational performance.
However, the market mechanism does not automatically lead to ‘good work’. There are even signs of deterioration. Moreover, the future of work will look different due to green and digital transitions. That is why policies and actions are needed from the social partners and governments. Focusing on skills development through vocational education and training is not enough – on the job learning appears to be equally important.
Why objective criteria? Isn’t it enough to ask workers how satisfied they are with their work? Of course, we should ask workers for their opinion. However, subjective measurements (job satisfaction, meaningful work, etc.), although interesting and relevant, are not enough to ensure decent work that complies with the law and human dignity. After all, we know that how people subjectively assess their work also reflects their socio-economic position, their work history and the opportunities they see or do not see in the future.
Objective criteria must also be distinguished from consequences such as competence development, innovative behaviour and stress. Most working conditions laws stipulate that hazards and risks must be tackled at the source (primary prevention). In the case of job content, this is about the organisation of work. Work organisation should provide learning opportunities and contain limited stress risks for successive workers in that workplace. The key concept here is the balance between job demands on the one hand, and control possibilities and available resources on the other. Sometimes adaptation to individual workers is also desirable (job crafting) – this is called secondary prevention.
Criteria can be derived from theories of quality of job content. A number of criteria are already included in some widely accepted recommendations (in particular on psychosocial risks, e.g. EU PRIMA-F and ISO 45003), and are regular items in surveys such as the European Working Conditions Survey.
Such criteria can be used by social partners at various levels (e.g. The European Social Partners Framework Agreement on Digitalisation, 2020) and by labour inspectors.
Implementation requires an organisational level participative approach based on design theories such as Sociotechnical Systems Design , Workplace Innovation , Relational Coordination and Quick Response Manufacturing . ‘Lean’ should be evaluated critically as there are many varieties, each with different effects on quality of job content.
Moreover, there is a need to put even more emphasis on proactively shaping not just the way technology is implemented and the roles around it, but also the design of technology per se, in order to maximise its positive consequences.
These approaches must of course be embedded in appropriate policies such as the Industry 5.0 strategy of the European Commission. “Industry 5.0 is characterised by going beyond producing goods and services for profit. It shifts the focus from the shareholder value to stakeholder value and reinforces the role and the contribution of industry to society. It places the wellbeing of the worker at the centre of the production process and uses new technologies to provide prosperity beyond jobs and growth while respecting the production limits of the planet. (European Commission, 2021 )”
A new analysis of data from the European Company Survey yielded the following report:
CEDEFOP and Eurofound (2023). Fostering skills use for sustained business performance: evidence from the European Company Survey. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. http://data.europa.eu/doi/10.2801/425052
The results support our – also research-based – message that skills are not only related to education, but also to work organisation and quality of work. This is often underexposed, even in this European Year of Skills, despite previous research by CEDEFOP.
On p. 7 of the report, attention is paid to workplace innovation and EUWIN.
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European Workplace Innovation Network (EUWIN)
EUWIN was established by the European Commission in 2013 and is now entirely supported by contributions from an international network of partners co-ordinated by HIVA (University of Leuven). EUWIN also functions as a network partner for the H2020 Beyond4.0 project.
Contact: Workplace Innovation Europe CLG (firstname.lastname@example.org).