What is ‘Good Work’?

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IzzyWebsiteAs work has changed, the relationship between organisations and their people has progressed. Work has moved away from the industrial revolution and the homogenisation of workers and evolved into an era of autonomy with a new emphasis on the wellbeing of the individual. In recent decades this shift has been characterised by the increased responsibility and awareness of organisations for the wellness of their people.

However, despite the increased focus on individual wellbeing in the workplace, there has been a decline in job satisfaction. In the 1980s ‘roughly 61% of pollsters were satisfied with their jobs’, by 2010 this figure had dropped to 43%[2]. Even amongst highly skilled professions such as medicine and law, studies reflected rising discontent.

Financial security is an obviously important element – we know from our work with organisations that people need to be paid fairly – however, after that, economic incentive is not a big driver of satisfaction. In his essay ‘On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs’, David Graeber explores the negative ramifications for people who feel that their job is worthless and lacks value. These are roles in which the person cannot justify the existence of their responsibilities, despite often being highly respected jobs and well paid. These people frequently feel that the tasks they perform do not contribute to a wider cause, creating a sense of disillusionment and ‘pointlessness’ to their role. Linked to this is the emotional connection between work and identity, with 55% of people gaining some sense of identity from their job[1]. This lack of meaning can be emotionally detrimental to employees, leaving workers feeling unfulfilled in the performance of tasks they believe do not make a difference[2].

Here at HSM we advise that organisations, and particularly leaders, talk about ‘Good Work’ and evaluate whether the roles the offer provide a sense of meaning to their employees, looking beyond the traditional financial incentives to drive job fulfilment. The concept of ‘Good work’ highlights the importance of a role providing meaning, autonomy, dignity and a sense of belongingness. Employees wish to feel their efforts are adding value and are meaningful, even to a small degree. Furthermore, ‘good work’ needs to extend a sense of control to employees, promoting a level of freedom and autonomy within a role. Evidence of this was shown in Amy Wrzesniewski’s and Jane Dutton’s 2001 study, which found that janitors at large hospitals who viewed their roles as being part of the healing process of patients, rather than as a series of cleaning tasks, had higher levels of job satisfaction[3].

The positive implication of a more engaged workforce is substantial, particularly when placed in the unsettled context of technological disruption and social change. With statistics highlighting that 70% of the workforce is disengaged, a proactive and creative approach is required to increase job satisfaction[1].

Interested in learning more about how you can influence ‘Good Work’ in your organisation? Get in touch with me at isabella@hotspotsmovement.com


[1] Future of Work Research Consortium, ‘Building Narratives on the Future of Work’ Report, 2018

[2] Wealthy, Successful and Miserable – C. Duhigg, The Future of Work, The New York Times Magazine

[3] Crafting a Job: Revisioning Employees as Active Crafters of Their Work. A. Wrzesniewski and J. E. Dutton, 2001

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