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Poor quality work more damaging to mental health than unemployment, says Bevan


Poor quality work has a more detrimental impact on psychosocial health than being unemployed, according to Work Foundation director of the Centre for Workforce Effectiveness Stephen Bevan.

Bevan was speaking at The Employee Engagement Summit in London on 26 November. He cited research that suggests being unemployed is less psychologically damaging than being in “low quality jobs”.

Bevan said this means policy makers should rethink “welfare policy based on the assumption that any job is better than no job and that getting people into poor quality and precarious work is good for them”.

“Job quality is something we can’t afford to ignore,” he said. “Good work is critical. We need to focus on high job quality. There’s no job that can’t be enhanced.”

He added that the “hourglass” shape of the labour market is leading to two tiers of workers, "the winners and losers”, and warned that rising self-employment figures were not a wholly positive story.

“Don’t believe the rhetoric that growth in self-employment is a new dawn for entrepreneurs,” he said. “It’s a lot more complicated than that.”

On the same panel, MP and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Management Barry Sheerman called for a “revolution” in how businesses treat employees. “Your organisation will only be as good as the lowest paid people in it and how committed they feel,” he said.

‘Place’ for zero-hours contracts

Speaking at the same event, parliamentary under secretary of state for both Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs & Women and Equalities, Jo Swinson said while in some cases the flexibility attached to zero-hours contracts could be a “driver of wellbeing”, in other cases individuals were being “exploited”.

In some arrangements, “there isn't an equal relationship in terms of power” between employer and employee, she said.

“[Zero-hours contracts] have a place in the labour market but they need to be used responsibly,” she added. “Responsible employers need to stand up and make sure [these contracts] are being used in the right way.”