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Can we design our jobs better than our boss? New research to help organisations

Can we design our jobs better than our boss? New research to help organisations
  • New international study by What Works Centre for Wellbeing shows why organisations often fail to improve staff wellbeing.
  • Evidence backs employee training and support to design their own jobs, and finding ways to help managers better understand staff concerns.
  • Systemic, organisation-wide changes to improving wellbeing also show benefits for performance

New research looks across the international evidence base – from an initial pool of over 4,000 studies – to reveal which practical actions in the workplace are effective for improving wellbeing and performance – and which are not.

Studies have shown that job type or industry sector are not necessarily defining factors of what makes a good job. Instead, things like how secure it is; our social connections; on-the-job learning opportunities; supportive organisations; and clear responsibilities are just some of the elements seen by employees as more important. When we move into a role with none, or fewer, of these elements, our life satisfaction drops. Even when we move out of unemployment and into work, how big an impact this has on our wellbeing depends on the quality of the job.

The new research, carried out by researchers at the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Business School as part of the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, reviewed studies of the practical actions organisations can take to maximise their chances of designing high quality jobs.

Only 28% of us in the UK are highly satisfied with our jobs. Which means that more than seven in 10 of us are not. Our happiest days are the weekends. And yet, estimates suggest that an adult in work would spend an average of 57% of our waking hours working.

The What Works Centre for Wellbeing recommends that policy-makers create incentives for employers to develop high quality work, as well as guidance on how to do so. They point to the Management Standards for Work-Related Stress issued by the Health and Safety Executive, and suggest adapting them to include the evidence-based actions outlined in the review.

Nancy Hey, director of the The What Works Centre says: “The evidence shows us that getting employees involved in designing their own job means listening to their needs, supporting their development and training them where appropriate. Organisations need to look at how embedded wellbeing is in their DNA, not only within one department or champion. We want to see more discussion in workplaces about what a quality job looks like in that company.”

Professor Kevin Daniels, who leads the team that completed the review, says “We’ve known for a long time what a good quality job looks like and the benefits good quality work has for wellbeing, mental health, physical health and productivity. Our review adds to the evidence on what a good job quality is by pointing to some promising actions on how organisations can enhance the quality of work, wellbeing and performance.”

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