How is work good for our health?

17 July 2018

Robert Williams
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The world of work in the UK has radically changed. Britain has transformed from an industrial country of mines, mills and manufacturing to one that is largely based on services. Unsurprisingly, the type of jobs available today has changed too. With the potential impact of new technologies and the rise of the gig economy we could be seeing big changes again.

In 2016, the Prime Minister commissioned the Taylor Review to investigate. A key message of the review is, ‘All work in the UK economy should be fair and decent with realistic scope for development and fulfilment.’

The review said good work was important for many reasons. It allows for people to have a fair income and can help improve productivity. Crucially, good work is vital for people’s health and wellbeing too.

This month’s infographic explores what good work is and why it is beneficial to our health.

Infographic depicting what aspects of our work influence our health

Good work is made up of many factors, but we identified four core attributes:

  • Pay fairly and offer lasting security
    We know pay alone does not define the quality of a job, but it’s very important. In 2017, there were 8 million people living in poverty where at least one person in the family was working. Having a fair income is important for people’s health as it means they can live in decent housing, afford nutritious food and do the things they enjoy, while also being able to save for their future.
     
  • Ensure good working conditions
    Good working conditions means everyone should be safe and comfortable at work. Additionally, it means ensuring staff have secure contracts that allow them to take paid leave for illness and crucial life events.
     
  • Enable a good work life balance
    We know strong relationships with friends and family are important for our health. Unfortunately, work can sometimes get in the way of our relationships. Good work ensures employees have a balance between their work and their personal lives, allowing them to spend valuable time relaxing and seeing friends and family.
     
  • Provide training and opportunities to progress
    Good work also allows staff to gain skills and chances for progression. Workers can then develop and potentially increase their incomes and career prospects. This can help to promote social mobility and reduce the socio-economic inequalities that are linked to negative health outcomes.

What does the research show us?

There have been several studies showing the links between quality of work and health. The studies found that those in higher status roles were less likely to die of heart disease than those in lower status roles. It is thought those in higher status roles are able to make meaningful decisions in their work and have a greater level of control in their life. This seems to have a protective effect on their health. 

We also know that income and social status, often defined by the jobs we have, are closely linked to health outcomes. The evidence all suggests that good work is crucial in promoting health.

It is expected that with the introduction of new technologies we could see some jobs currently done by humans being replaced with machines. These changes will likely affect all sectors, especially manufacturing. But studies suggest there will be new jobs created too, especially in education and health. Our challenge in this new era is to ensure we meet the key message of the Taylor Review: that all jobs are good ones.

We have faced similar challenges before where there have been sudden changes in the type of jobs available, whether that was in the 1980s or going as far back as the industrial revolution. If we are to meet the challenges of the 21st century we must learn from the past. We cannot be Luddites, but action must be proactive to ensure nowhere and no one is left behind. This will require government, business and trade unions working together to provide good jobs for all.

We know good work is vital for people’s health and wellbeing. Therefore, we must create high quality employment for every person, in every part of the UK. We believe for a job to be high quality it must meet the four core good work attributes. By providing good work for all, we can reduce socio-economic inequalities and create a healthier society.

Robert Williams (@RobWillhealth) is Policy Support Officer at the Health Foundation.

References

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