What makes a ‘good job’?

What makes a job ‘good’? In the midst of a jobs-rich recovery, in a relatively flexible labour market, attention inevitably shifts to the quality of the jobs being created – both in terms of the contribution to national productivity, and the qualitative experience of those undertaking the work. In these terms at least, it is not evident that the picture is entirely rosy: there are questions of pay, productivity, security and job satisfaction.

All of this is in a context of significant growth of low-paid, low productivity jobs in what some have described as a ‘hourglass’ labour market: with these kinds of jobs – mostly hospitality and other low-skilled services – growing by around a quarter since the recession, and high productivity jobs – such as those in financial services – declining by around a fifth.

In this collection, we bring together a wide range of contributors to address these questions, in turn providing an overview of what might be meant by ‘good jobs’, and how we might create more of them.

It begins with the views of the public, a sample of whom discussed what they value in a job in a series of deliberative events held by PwC earlier this year. Ian Tomlinson-Roe draws on these observations to suggest that opportunities for progression, job satisfaction and having a stake in the business are the conditions the public consider important for a good job.

The changing structure of the labour market also gives an indication of what workers value. In his piece, Ryan Shorthouse of Bright Blue describes the growing ranks of the self-employed and what this means for the good jobs agenda, suggesting that many are abandoning old ways of working precisely so they can exercise the kind of control over their work that good jobs provide.

But freelancing will not work for everyone: so what can we do to encourage more ‘good jobs’? Returning to the views of the public, in his piece Tomlinson-Roe suggests that HR departments with a better understanding of employees’ skill-sets and goals could give them the progression they need. He also posits that in order to give employees a stake in the company’s success there should be a greater role for employee voice.

John Philpott, the Jobs Economist, builds on this, arguing that it is this deeper, more meaningful method of employee engagement that would be likely to create good jobs and in turn generate the productivity gains we are looking for. And Duncan O’Leary picks this up in his description of two potential solutions to the productivity puzzle. Rather than improving productivity through macro-scale policy interventions, he argues that stronger employee voice could help achieve good jobs from the ground up.

Julia Goldsworthy raises the role of the public sector as an employer – with surveys revealing lower levels of job satisfaction than in the private sector. In her contribution, she unites good jobs with the devolution agenda. She argues that more local public services can give civil servants more autonomy over how services are delivered, improving outcomes and their working experience at the same time.

Finally, the collection provides insights into the incentives acting on businesses or whole sectors, with Fiona Kendrick of Nestlé describing their journey to the Living Wage, Baroness Kingsmill outlining what good jobs might look like in the care sector, and Joe Wiggins of Glassdoor describing their rather revolutionary proposal of online reviews for employers, providing the kind of transparency that TripAdvisor has for hotels.

All of these measures and more would be welcome in moving towards a labour market full of good jobs. Now that we are well into economic recovery, it is time to start thinking about how we use our time at work more productively, with benefits both to GDP and our own wellbeing.