What is job quality and how does it impact the individual’s working behaviour and mental health, does it predict subjective well-being and what are the dimensions central in determining job quality ? A number of authors and researchers accent on the difficulty into translating the concept of job quality into a set of specific key determinants. Findlay et.al. (2015) argue that competing conceptualisations of job quality hinder attempts to improve the understanding of job quality as well as the evaluation of any interventions intended to measure whether it occurs in the workplace (Chris Warhurst et. al). Findlay also argues that the assessment job quality requires a multi-dimensional approach in order to be understood throughout. However, as Holman (2013) and Hudson (2007) argue that distinguishing between these dimensions is a complex task, as good and bad jobs characteristics tend to cluster and rarely appear on their own. Also, debates over whether job quality should be defined in objective or subjective terms also leads to many dead ends when assessing the dimensions.
Nevertheless, to illustrate some of the key dimensions, good- quality jobs are outlined by the opportunities they offer for task, discretion and control. In terms of employee’s wellbeing, quality jobs provide individuals the ability to develop and expand their skillset, whilst offering them some degree of challenge consistent with the abilities of the individual. (Findlay et.al 2013). Vidal (2013) points out that most job quality scholars do not use the same dimensions of job quality in their analyses, but nonetheless include some combination of the following job quality characteristics: monetary compensation, individual task discretion, safe working conditions, job security and work intensity (Horowitz, 2016). These five dimensions will be overlooked as the key determinants of job quality in this paper.
Monetary compensation is considered a major determinant of the job quality, generally being measured through the employees’ wages or income (Green, 2006, Vidal 2013). Many researchers argue that wages might be used as proxies determining the overall job quality (Fernandez-Macias, 2012) mainly for two reasons:
First, research findings suggest that a great amount of people choose their work depending on how much money and benefits it provides them, resulting in an overall assumption that the monetary compensation awarded to such individuals is a measure of job quality with high face validity (Horowitz 2016).
Second, a substantial evidence could be found insisting that income results to higher work motivation, excitement for life and overall happiness of the individuals (Lee and Ono 2012, Schnittker 2008).
Also, after conducting a research on job quality Cooke et.al (2013) found that same or similar jobs can be regarded very differently , because the factors that affect the dimensions are shaped by broader aspects of life- family, friends, community, lifestyle and past experiences – that shape the individual(Cooke, Donaghey and Zeytinoglu, 2013). Further, in their research Cooke et.al divide the employees to seven types depending on their work expectations in order to better understand what the main determinants are that are stimulating these groups to perceive a job as good. The findings are, that monetary compensation is perceived as a leading factor for four of these groups that look for extrinsic rewards in their job such as: fixed rates of payment, secured their financial obligations, good pension and fringe benefits (Cooke et.al).
Some scholars, however, argue that there is a heterogeneous relationship between job quality dimensions and wages, thus rejecting the exclusive focus on income as a determinant of a good job. (Sengupta et.al, 2009). Holman (2013) also suggests that there are drawbacks when using wages and income as a determinant of job quality, due to the fact that these two aspects of monetary compensation do not necessarily determine all the wage aspects that should be taken in mind. He points out that some of these are whether the employee is receiving a fixed salary (rather than being dependant on the amount of working hours done or based on performance) (Horowitz, 2016). Further, monetary compensation should be considered in a broader aspect as wages provide only a narrow part of the dimension when measuring the overall job quality.
Thus, Monetary compensation is a major determinant of job quality, mainly perceived as the key driver for a job to be perceived as ,,good” and rewarding. However emphasis is put on the fact, that monetary compensation encompasses broader aspect than pay and wage distribution.
Job security is a job quality dimension, defined as the probability of the employee to lose his/her job, and the collateral feelings about job insecurity that accompany it (Daw and Hardie, 2012). Security is linked to the expectations of remaining at the same workplace for a long period of time, resulting in income security and the ability to access credit, afford to save and plan for the future (Taylor and Francis, 2008). Further, Vidal (2013) suggests that job security consists of both subjective characteristics that connect to negative feelings towards the possibility of losing one’s work, and objective ones considering the likelihood of that happening. A growing body of research suggests that employee’s reaction to uncertain employment conditions can impact negatively on both managerial and individual perspectives. Insecurity on the workplace can result negatively on the employee’s well-being, motivation and job satisfaction. From managerial perspective, job instability can drive adverse workforce attitudes towards the organisation, provoking unwillingness to remain in the company and decreasing the overall performance (Sverke, Hellgren and Naswall, 2002). De Witte (1999) points out that the perceived threat of potential job loss involves frustration in the individuals’ needs for social contacts, structuring of time and personal development, as well as impacting in a potential loss of important financial resources. Furthermore, research suggests that organisation’s effort to provide more employee security, benefits, and boosts employee morale further resulting in a potential bottom line financial improvement that will benefit all stakeholders. (May, Lau and Johnson 1999).
However, nowadays job security is much less common than it was in the last decades, as organisations are ,,delayered” and work intensity is increasing (Osterman, 2013).In his research Osterman (2013) points out that the nature of the private sector relationship in the US has notably changed during the last decade, resulting in more insecure work relations and more mobile workforce. Also, a further research on globalisation and job security suggests that the traditional relationship between employees and employers, grounded on full-time contractual engagement and long-time contracting, prove to be no longer suitable to the new pressures and demands arising in the global economy. This results in a decline in the full-time and permanent employment in favour of the non-standard and adjustable work, such as part-time and temporary contracts
(Evert-jan Quak and de Vijsel, 2014).
Nevertheless, the majority of academic research constitutes that job security impacts the physical and mental wellbeing of those who do not choose irregular working hours and pay. Also, evidence proves that work insecurity negatively impacts the macroeconomic development and growth, and increases the overall performance of the workforce with potential drawbacks in organisational morale and association, thus making it an important determinant when measuring job quality (Evert-jan Quak and de Vijsel, 2014; Sverke, Hellgren and Naswall, 2002).
Work intensity is defined as a demand for an increase in the amount work to be done during work hours (Anderson-Connoly, and Greenberg, 2000) and forcing the workforce to rise their speed of production and work harder ( Kalleberg 2011; Vidal 2013). In other words, the increased requirements for work effort holds the potential detrimental effect for the increase in work intensity. Scholar research suggests that developments on technology, management style and organizational layoffs have contributed to the increase of work intensity in recent years.( Green 2006; Grunberg et al. 2000; Kalleberg 2011; Vidal 2013). Psychologists argue, that a greater effort demand within a defined time frame results in a greater workforce energy spent, with less time to recover provided, which may ultimately increase the risk of psychological distress (Lundberg U , 2005). Psychological stress is widely accepted as ,, a state of emotional suffering characterized by symptoms of depression and anxiety” (Stamatakis et.al, 2012). Indeed, a standard complaint by workers derives from the management demand for increased responsibilities and the associated pressure. Adding the increased workloads caused from the thinning of employment ranks leads to an inevitable rise of stress levels on the workplace (Osterman, 2013).
In a research conducted by Arne Kalleberg (2011) through a series of interviews, reported that between 1977 and 2006 there was an increase in the proportion of workers experiencing stress and mental issues on their workplace, who agreed with statements like: ,, My job requires that I work very hard.” I have too much work to do” and ,,My job requires that I work very fast”. (Kalleberg, 2011) Furthermore, an ethnographic research by Laurie Graham at a Subaru-Isuzu plant determined that while employees had a greater work satisfaction than the traditional factory workers, under increased intensification of work pace and health and safety concerns they became more cynical on how ,,new” the new system is and how committed the organisations is to their wellbeing (Osterman, 2013).
Thus work intensity can potentially hold a negative impact on the individual’s wellbeing, increasing the risk of mental health problems and stress accumulation, making it an important determinant of job quality. Although not all typologies of job quality include work intensity, work intensity has been a theoretically important construct for distinguishing ,,good” from ,,bad” jobs (Fairris 2004).
Individual Task Discretion.
Task discretion is a dimension of job quality, defined as the control that the employee has over how work tasks are accomplished (Green 2006, Sengupta et al., 2009). Research has shown that task discretion is a key concept when measuring job quality due to its relationship with stimulating intrinsic rewards (Kalleberg, 2011), also supported by Kohn and Schooler’s (1983) findings that professional self-direction plays an important role in psychological functioning (Horowitz, 2016). Osterman (2013) suggests that two forces are influencing the modern management systems towards the direction of increased discretion:
First, consequentially from the increased employee lay-offs and turnover, the responsibilities and scope for action of those who remain in the organisation has likely increased.
Second, the spread of High Performance Work Systems with the attendant use of teams and quality programs can potentially benefit the employees with a greater voice in the organisation of work.
Moreover, psychological evidence claims that a link exists between lower task discretion and poor health outcomes such as increased probability of cardiac disease and higher blood pressure ( Inanc, Felstead, Duncan and Green, 2012). Recent theories of management also emphasise the importance of stimulating employee engagement in decision-making suggesting that the process positively affects their work conditions, thus increasing workforce’s creativity and organisational commitment (Insanc et al., 2012). A research conducted by Freeman and Rogers (1995) reported that ,,79% of non-managerial, non-union participants in employee involvement programs reported, that they personally benefitted from their involvement in such activities by acquiring more independence in the working process (Osterman, 2013) Also, their research found that 64% of the employees who do not have the access to such programs would like to ,,have a program like this” at their department/organisation. Further research has shown that there is a positive correlation between job designs implementing an increased autonomy, and control, stimulating high performance work systems and job satisfaction (Fahr, 2011).
Safety climate is defined by Wiegman et.al (2002) as ,The temporal state measure of safety culture, subject to commonalities among individual perceptions of the organization. It is therefore situationally based, refers to the perceived state of safety at a particular place at a particular time, is relatively unstable, and subject to change depending on the features of the current environment or prevailing conditions.” The importance of safe working conditions is noted by various scholars (de Bustillo et.al. 2011), stressing on the fact that not all jobs are equally safe, however, organisations can and should aim to create a context where safety procedures are followed and emphasised (Smith and DeJoy 2012). In the past decade, the ongoing struggle to give an exact definition of safety climate are being associated with the debate about the management’s responsibility to maintain safe conditions at the workplace and insure that workers behave properly in order to reduce accident rates (Bergh, 2011). Several studies suggest that maintaining a good safety climate positively impacts on organisational environment by reducing accidents rates and increase safety (Toner, 2010). Hudson (1999) argues that ensuring safe working conditions at the workplace contributes to increased employee productivity and reduced costs in the long run. Further, in her research on safety climate Bergh (2011) compares the direct costs and accidents driven from the lack of safety culture to an iceberg, see figure 1. The indirect costs and accident sources can be compared to a part of the iceberg hiding under the surface.