Report sets out how work quality should be measured

Job security and workplace mental health should be monitored by government, according to the Measuring Job Quality Working Group?

Such factors should be measured annually by government to track quality of work in the UK, its report released today stated. It also called on government to monitor how much workers feel supported by their employers.

The Measuring Job Quality Working Group is jointly led by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) and Carnegie UK Trust. Its new report sets out a proposed framework for how the government should monitor the quality of work across the UK.

It highlights that employment has a major impact on people’s wellbeing and quality of life. Despite record levels of employment, workers still feel trapped in jobs below their skillsets, are working too few or too many hours, or are facing excessive workplace pressure, it states.

The authors recommend that work/life balance, mental health, purpose, and involvement and control at work should all be added as factors to be measured by the Labour Force Survey, the largest and most comprehensive annual household study in the UK. For £200,000, policymakers would be able to gain significant insight into the changing workplace and how the gig economy is affecting workers, the report suggested.

The research sets out recommendations that the government should adopt a new set of national job quality metrics, organised according to the CIPD’s seven job quality dimensions. These include terms of employment, pay and benefits, health, safety and psychological wellbeing, job design, social support and cohesion, voice and representation, and work/life balance.

Jonny Gifford, senior adviser of organisational behaviour at the CIPD, and member of the Measuring Job Quality Working Group, said that measuring job quality would help provide a consistent view of what constitutes as good work.

“Despite the obvious gain in doing so, it’s clear that we haven’t cracked the measurement of job quality," he said. "There is no commonly agreed set of metrics used to describe job quality, track it over time, compare it between different contexts or groups of people and analyse what improves or worsens it. This review is a useful summary of existing measures of job quality and gives practical pointers on their future development. It is a very timely publication."

“We can all spot a terrible job when we see one, but our descriptions will often be inconsistent, as good job quality for one person may look different for another person, or indeed for the same person at a different stage of life. We need measures of job quality that account for both its objective and subjective aspects.”

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA, said that high employment levels alone do not give the full picture.

“A focus on record employment levels and the quantity of work only tells us so much: we do not know whether workers feel happy, well-treated, have opportunities for progression, work the number of hours they want to, or feel they have control over their working lives,” he said.

“To manage this problem, we must measure this problem. By expanding the official and most comprehensive survey of UK households – the Labour Force Survey – we can get a properly comprehensive assessment of the quality of work in the UK.”

Martyn Evans, chief executive of Carnegie UK Trust and group co-chair, added that while employment is at a record high, in-work poverty and job insecurity is escalating.

“From the post-war settlement onwards, paid work was a route out of poverty. Work was also a source of status and material and social enrichment. Today the numbers in work in the UK are at a record high but the quality of that work has come under scrutiny. There are unprecedented levels of in-work poverty and growing work insecurity and inequality,” he said.

Evans pointed to the government’s response to the Taylor Review as evidence that there is appetite for change.

“In accepting all of the [Taylor] report’s recommendations, the government has indicated its willingness to respond positively to the challenge […] For quality of work to go from being an aspiration to effective public policy, we first need comprehensive and robust data to measure progress towards this goal,” he said.

“Effective job quality measurement will tell us more about the reality and complexity of work, and its impact on quality of life for citizens. It will tell us what people across the UK experience in work and what their views are.”

The Measuring Job Quality Working Group was formed in response to the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices, published in 2017.