Understanding job quality

Human Relations

Business & Management: Human Resources Management

Deadline: 30/04/2011 (Closed)

Web site: http://www.tavinstitute.org/humanrelations/special_issues/job_quality.html

Despite, or perhaps because of, the economic recession, job quality is again a key issue in the advanced economies. The study of job quality has a long history within the social sciences and has previously featured heavily in Human Relations. It is now timely, however, to revitalize the academic debate. The purpose of this Special Issue is to provide an intellectual space to review existing conceptual frameworks for analyzing job quality and to use this review to develop a new approach to conceptualizing job quality that is multi-disciplinary and international, and capable of driving future empirical and applied research in the area.

Policy-makers across the advanced economies now recognize that the quality, not just the quantity, of jobs is important for individual well-being and national/regional competitive advantage. The UK government is aware that low wage, low skill jobs can have deleterious consequences for occupational health and safety (HSE 2007) and generate in-work poverty that, in turn, exacerbates child poverty; creates and perpetuates gender inequalities in the labour market and beyond; and constrains job and social mobility (Goulden, 2010). Even during the recession the importance of the issue of job quality remains high on government agendas as part of a job growth strategy. Similarly, in the US, policy initiatives have focused on improving job quality to deal with social and economic problems (Appelbaum et al., 2003). In Australia, it is recognized that poor job quality has costs for individuals, families, communities, and the social fabric at large and requires policy intervention (Masterman-Smith and Pocock, 2008). A similar position has existed within the European Union since the Lisbon Agreement of 2000, with the latter?s emphasis on promoting ?decent work? and trying to balance the raising of employment participation and improving job quality. This decent work policy agenda is overtly evident within International Labour Organization initiatives to raise labour standards, enhance employment and income opportunities, provide social protection and social security, and promote social dialogue. In particular, there are demands for a ?new deal? or ?new strategy? for workers in bad jobs (Osterman, 2008).

However, policy interventions to improve these jobs first require a robust conceptualization, measurement, and trajectory of job quality. The European Union and International Labour Organization policy agendas starkly illustrate how difficult it is for policy-makers to progress these initiatives because of a lack of agreement on indicators of job quality and the lack of comparability between countries (Raveaud, 2007). Intervention by policy makers is hampered by the lack of clear policy thinking around what might constitute a good job.

Similarly, within academia, as Sen Gupta et al. (2009) acknowledge, defining and measuring job quality is difficult. Indeed, there is no consensus about what constitutes job quality. There are different emphases among disciplines—for example—economists typically emphasize pay; sociologists emphasize skill and autonomy; and psychologists emphasize job design and well-being (see respectively Clark 2005; Gallie, 2007 and Holman, 2010). There are also differences within disciplines—for example—within sociology over whether or not contingent employment is synonymous with poor job quality (Kalleberg, 2000). Perceptions and experiences of job quality are also linked to social divisions, such that analyses need to be sensitive to the characteristics of both the job and the job-holder (Tomaskovic-Devey, 1993). Furthermore, these characterizations are often undermined by differences of geography—for example—centred on individual countries or specific regions, or types of countries—advanced or developing (Leschke and Watt, 2008; Masterman-Smith and Pocock, 2008). For example—there is the issue of whether or not, as well as how, to include the 'social wage' of state-provided health insurance in comparisons between the US and European countries.

Thus, while a number of alternative definitions and measures of job quality exist, these approaches are often disciplinarily and nationally discrete, and their utility for policy makers is consequently limited.

What is required is a coherent conceptual framework and an assessment of the evidence base on job quality that signposts research priorities and is able to support policy interventions to improve job quality. If policy is to focus on job quality and comparisons are to be made of improvements to the quality of each country?s stock of jobs—and academics are to properly scrutinize these policy interventions and their outcomes—clearly what is needed is a common, cross-disciplinary, and internationally robust definition of job quality.

The Special Issue is intentionally positioned to have broad multi-disciplinary and international appeal. We welcome contributions that examine particular disciplinary approaches to analyzing job quality, contributions that highlight the geographic specificity of such analyses, and contributions that attempt to provide an interdisciplinary, international conceptualization of job quality. We also welcome empirical contributions that inform and develop conceptualization and the evidence base around job quality.

We invite work that may help in answering the following questions:

  • What constitutes job quality?
  • Within analyses of job quality, what are the differential emphases on work and employment characteristics?
  • How do economists, sociologists, social psychologists, and other disciplinary specialists conceive job quality?
  • How can current conceptualizations of job quality be improved?
  • What is the relationship between conceptualization and measurement (including data availability) of job quality and to what extent is the former driven by the latter?
  • How do perceptions and experiences of job quality vary by age, sex, and race?
  • Are there differences in the conceptualization and operationalization of job quality within the advanced economies?
  • What are the patterns of job quality across industries and countries?
  • Is there a discernible trajectory of job quality across industries and countries?
  • Are there differences in the conceptualization and operationalization of job quality between the advanced economies and the developing economies?

Contributors should note:

This call is open and competitive, and the submitted papers will be subjected to anonymous review by referees with expertise in the field.

Submitted papers must be based on original material not under consideration by any other journal or outlet. For empirical papers based on data sets from which multiple papers have been generated, authors must provide the Guest Editors with copies of all other papers based on the same data. The Guest Editors will select five papers to be included in the Special Issue; additional high quality papers submitted in this process may be published in other issues of the journal.


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