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Kent economist reports on the quality of working life


A new book by Francis Green, Professor of Economics at the University of Kent, is about to have a major impact on how we perceive the quality of work and working life.

Titled Demanding Work: The Paradox of Job Quality in the Affluent Economy (Princeton University Press), Professor Green’s book uses information drawn from high-quality social surveys and administrative data to present a unique and authoritative account of changing job quality in contemporary society.

In his book, Professor Green shows that in most affluent countries average pay levels have risen along with economic growth (a major exception being the USA). Skill requirements have also increased, potentially meaning a more fulfilling time at work. However, set against these beneficial trends are increases in inequality, a strong intensification of work effort, diminished job satisfaction, and less employee influence over daily work tasks.

Professor Green says, ‘In the affluent economies of the industrialised world, life at work in the early 21st century has evolved in a curious and intriguing way. Workers have, with significant exceptions, been taking home increasing wages, exercising more acute mental skills, enjoying safer and more pleasant conditions at work, and spending less time there. Yet they have also been working much more intensely, experiencing greater mental strain, sometimes to the point of exhaustion. In many cases, work has come under increased and unwelcome control from above, leaving individual employees with less influence over their daily work lives and a correspondingly less fulfilling experience than before.’

He adds: ‘In these ways, work in the recent era has become more demanding. Meanwhile, significant minorities of workers continue to endure great uncertainty regarding the future security of their employment. Overall, employees are getting no more satisfaction from their time at work than they used to, even though the material wealth of nations has been increasing.’

Using an interdisciplinary approach, Professor Green shows how aspects of job quality are related, and how changes in the quality of work life stem from technological change and transformations in the politico-economic environment.

He concludes by discussing what individuals, firms, unions and governments can do to counter declining job quality.

Gary Hughes | alfa
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