"Good work"

“The primary goal…today is to promote opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.”
–  Juan Somavia, Director-General, International Labour Organisation (1999-2012)(1)


Can work be more than a means to earning a living?  And what are the conditions that could turn work into a community of engaged, flourishing individuals, each contributing in their unique way to an endeavour they care about? 

Whilst there is compelling evidence that unemployment is bad for health - associated as it is with increased mortality, more health conditions and poorer self-care - ‘bad work’ is actually even worse for physical and mental health than being unemployed.

As we spend on average of a third of our waking hours at work it is a key setting for improving our health and wellbeing.  The type of work is important, and this is where the concept of ‘good work’ comes into play. The Work Foundation calls us as employers, employees, policy-makers and citizens, to have a vision for the kind of work we aspire to create (1).

The compelling argument is that good work leads to a win-win situation, benefiting customers, staff and employers (2).

·      For the customer, good work delivers high quality goods and services, encouraging a positive perception of the organisation.

·      For the employee, good work means meaningful, satisfying work, with opportunities for development and personal impact.  

·      Good work is related to productivity and efficiency, reducing staff absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover. Hence good work sustainably enhances the bottom line.

The business care for investing in employee wellbeing is impressive.  Poor staff health is estimated to cost the UK economy around £100 billion a year (3), and the average cost of absenteeism to the employer is £595 per employee per year (4). The return on investment made on employee wellness programmes is between £2-10 for every £1 spent.  And healthy employees are 3 times more productive than those in poor health.

But the argument goes beyond finances.  Businesses are heeding the importance of business ethics, transparency and integrity, with greater attention being paid to their duty of care to their employees, and their contribution to society. 

The attributes of good work are (1,5):

·      Job security.

·      Fair reward compared to effort input.

·      Ability to influence the organisation.

·      Discretion in how one carries out one’s work.

·      Variety and interest.

·      Opportunities to develop skills.

·      Strong, inclusive workplace relationships.

·      A healthy work environment. 

Creating ‘good work’ requires sustainable cultural change, with careful thought given to communication, leadership and management practices. How does your organisation perform?  Are how could you improve the wellbeing of your staff through attention to the work environment? 

1.     Bevan, S. (2012) Good Work, High Performance and Productivity. The Work Foundation.
2.     Public Health England (2016) Work, worklessness and health – improving health and wealth outcomes.
3.     (2009) Workplace health: long-term sickness absence and incapacity to work. NICE.
4.     (2013) Absence Management. CIPD.
5.     Coats, D. & Lekhi, R. (2008) Good work: Job Quality in a Changing Economy. The Work Foundation.


© Contextualyse Ltd. 2016