Work, any sort of work, an activity that involves a mixture of physical and mental activity, and has the promise of a reward when it is completed, has, I have long thought, got to be good for you. Having a reason to get up in the morning, the mental and physical exertion, having other people who are relying on you and just the social interaction, even when you’re arguing have got to be good for you. Or at least better for you than sitting around with nothing to do other than watch day-time TV, surely.
Well yes, the negative impact of unemployment on both mental and physical health have been recognised for some time by the NHS.
But, now it seems that unemployment may, for some people, be the better option. New research from Manchester University, has found that bad work can have a larger negative impact on a person’s health than being unemployed.
Work involving stressful activities or those that are low paid are the most likely to have a detrimental effect on health, so if you have one of these types of jobs you may actually be better off, health wise, if you give up work.
During 2009 and 2010 Manchester University looked at how people 1,000 people aged between 35 and 75 transitioned from unemployment into different types of work and used self-reporting and hormone and other stress biomarker tests to assess the impact these different types of work had on their health. Their findings have been published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
The highest levels of chronic stress were clearly found in the people who had who moved into poor quality work. They had stress levels higher than the people who had remained unemployed during the study. The lowest levels of stress where found in those people who had found what the researchers described as good quality work.
The impact of quality of work on health seems to be focused on mental rather than physical health. If a person found good quality work they were likely to show an improvement in mental health and people who found poor quality work had increased risks of a range of mental and physical health problems.
These findings are not as new or as radical as they may at first sound. The Institute for Public Policy Research has also identified that people in insecure or temporary employment are more likely to have mental health problems than those who enjoy the stability of being a permanent employee.
The leader of the research team Tarani Chandola, professor of medical sociology at the University of Manchester has called for employers to design jobs that include quality work activities as this is likely to impact the level of success that an individual has in that job.
The professor acknowledged the widely held view that good quality work is good for health, but called for greater acceptance of the negative impact that poor-quality work has on health.
Professor Sir Cary Cooper, president of the CIPD, and professor of organisational psychology and health at Manchester Business School, told People Management good work involved more than just the activities of the job. Having too much to do, being in an organisation with a culture of bullying or just not being able to see any way out of a bad job all contribute to what makes work poor-quality.
Sir Cary predicted that maintaining good workplace health and wellbeing strategies could become more difficult in the near future because of growing job insecurity and general economic uncertainty. He said that having an employee wellbeing strategy is what supports an organisational statement that an organisations employees are its most important asset. HR professionals, says Sir Cary, need to be more assertive in the board room when it comes to promoting the wellbeing agenda.
Getting boardroom buy-in to employee wellbeing strategies is a subject that I spoke about at an event organised by PATH Yorkshire,
It seems very easy to blame employers for creating poor quality work, and it is far too simplistic to suggest that part of the solution may be for people who have poor-quality jobs to simply stop going in to work and visit the Job Centre Plus instead.
All jobs involve tasks that are boring, and all jobs involve activities that are stressful. It is true that employers could improve the way in which they design jobs and how they manage the people doing those jobs so that work with the potential to be good does not turn bad because of the non-work-related aspects of employment, which Cary Cooper described.
It is also important to acknowledge that employers like the suppliers of any product or service provide the jobs that people are prepared to accept. If no one accepted job offers to do poor-quality work or walked out of jobs that made them unhappy the way in which work was organised would change quickly.
Well, I’ll put the rose-tinted glasses off and accept that it will be a long time before that happens. I won’t stop trying to help employers create work that people want to do because it helps them achieve their lifestyle aspirations at the same time as working towards the achievement of an organisations objectives. I will try and make sure that any company that works with us is focused on making their employees happy, because as Sir Richard Branson is often quoted as saying, happy employees are more productive, they create happy customers and that creates happy shareholders… I know he has taken the Virgin Group back into private ownership since then.
What the researchers at Manchester University did not tell us was what the people who found themselves in poor quality work did to improve their situation. It is too easy when you find yourself in a bad job, bored by the work you are doing, disliking the people you work with, hating your boss, and knowing that you are capable of doing something else to feel despondent. I am sure that everyone has felt that way some of the time in every job that they have ever had. It’s when the problem days outnumber the good days that you know something really needs to be done about it.
You can always buy a ticket for the lottery and hope for the best, because when you look around there doesn’t seem to be much help for people in work but poor-quality work and unhappy in that work. The priority for the Government is to get unemployed people into employment. That is part of the problem, the target doesn’t identify a difference between good and poor-quality work. Just find them a job!
The fact is though, that people who are unhappy at work do not have to simply accept that situation as their only option.
That is why I am pleased to have been asked to work with PATH Yorkshire on their Second Chance project, which helps people who are in work to gain the skills, knowledge and let’s be honest the self-confidence to take the steps that will enable them to obtain better paid work with ideally their existing employer or at some other company.
More employers should investigate how the Second Chance project might be able to help them develop their business by tapping into well, the untapped potential of their existing employees.
Michael Millward joined BBC Radio York Drive Show host Elly Fiorentini this afternoon for a debate on the controversy about work experience, which was broadcast across all the BBC local radio stations in Yorkshire; BBC Radio Humberside; BBC Radio Leeds; BBC Radio Sheffield as well as BBC Radio York.
Also joining the debate was a student representative, who was protesting outside a fast food restaurant in Sheffield and the slave labour conditions of the government backed work experience programme.
Mr Millward explained that there was nothing more valuable to a job seeker than work experience, especially when they are first leaving education. But to quote an often used phrase you cannot get a job without experience and you cannot get experience without a job.
Both the student protesters and Mr Millward agreed that good work experience is invaluable, but explained Mr Millward many employers do not understand what that good work experience should involve.
Too many employers, said Mr Millward who are too busy themselves to plan and implement a good work experience project.
Mr Millward who is volunteer chairman of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) North Yorkshire branch referred employers, students and their parents to the work experience guide that the institute has produced in conjunction with Job Centre Plus.
Michael Millward was invited by the BBC Radio York Breakfast Show to discuss the continuing rise in unemployment amongst 16-24 year olds in North Yorkshire.
Mr Millward explained that it was very difficult to be optimistic in the short term at least for the people who have been affected. The state of the economy means that employers are simply not rushing to employ younger workers who have no work experience and need training before they can the job. Employers do need people who can hit the road running so to speak, and who can be relied upon to have a strong work ethic, something which too many young people find difficult to demonstrate.
Also involved in the discussion was a 19 year old man from Scarborough who has been unemployed for four months and although he has applied for over 100 jobs has only had a hand full of interviews.
Asked what advice he would give this young man Mr Millward explained that it was difficult to provide personal advice to someone he had not met, but that on his next visit to Scarborough he would spend some time with the man and help him improve his CV and interview techniques.
That meeting took place on 27th February 2012 at the Wood End Creative Centre, home of the BBC Radio York Scarborough studios ahead of a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) event at which Mr Millward was due to make a presentation.
Earlier in the day Mr Millward had presented the eighth annual Abeceder prize for the outstanding student on the MA in human resource management course at Leeds University Business School.
This year’s recipient was Vitaly Zybin, from Russia. Previous prizes have been awarded to students from China (2) Germany, Fiji, Nigeria(2) and Saudi Arabia.
Asked why he had decided to make the award Mr Millward explained that while he had been studying for his own MSc he had constantly achieved high marks, but whilst other courses had prizes for the outstanding performers his did not. “I promised myself when I established Abeceder that I would change that for students on at least one HR related masters course.”
That opportunity arose eight years ago when I was approached by Leeds University Business School.
Abeceder, explained Mr Millward has worked extensively with the education sector in Yorkshire and overseas. Last year working with our partners in Nigeria we created a programme of training in North Yorkshire for lecturers from the Nigerian Federal College.
Proving education to international students is a major earner of foreign currency for the UK economy and for colleges and universities across Yorkshire.
Mr Millward explained that with an increasing number of people at all levels of education getting the same qualifications it is increasingly difficult for employers to differentiate between students with the same qualification.
The Abeceder Prize gives the University the opportunity to identify at least one student who has excelled above and beyond the requirements of the qualification.
More employers should get more actively involved with their local education suppliers suggested Mr Millward. Very often employers complain about people leaving the education sector without the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in the workplace. Many employers actually take very expensive steps to remedy this by providing in-house training programmes to make education leavers work ready.
No other supplier would be treated in this way. If the supplier of raw materials or a service did not provide goods that were fit for purpose those good would be sent back. Unfortunately there is no returns policy with school leavers or graduates. It is simply a take it or leave it option.
With record numbers of people under the age of 24 registered as unemployed, and evidence from research conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (Mr Millward is Chairman of the Institute’s North Yorkshire branch) showing that employers would rather employ a foreign worker than a local the time is right for employers to more proactively engage with their local education providers.
There are a wide range of opportunities to get involved.
The list of potential ways to get involved with the education sector is wide and varied. But cautioned Mr Millward the education sector also needs to learn how to engage with employers. The sector is perhaps guilty of focusing on parents and pupils as it customers when in fact employers should also be regarded in the same way and more effort put in to identifying and meeting their needs.
Michael Millward joined Elly Fiorentini on the BBC Radio York Drive Show this evening to discuss the announcement by the Government of a fund to support the generation of jobs for young people in the private sector.
The fund will pay £2,275 for every job lasting more than six months that an employer fills with a person who is aged under 24.
Mr Millward said that he supported any initiative to create jobs, but the best way to create jobs is to create demand for goods and services. Artificially created jobs do little more than massage unemployment figures, by creating short term unsustainable employment.
Asked about the problems increased unemployment created for employers who had vacancies to fill Mr Millward explained that people who are without a job will naturally want to get back into employment as soon as possible, and that they very often apply for jobs that they would see that they were clearly unsuitable for is only they took the time to read the advert.
Faced with a large number of applications many employers may decide that they have neither the time nor the inclination to respond to every applicant.
Mr Millward cautioned against such an approach.
Every applicant should receive a response to their application, no matter how many people have applied.
Mr Millward advised employers to create a list of the must have criteria that an applicant must have to be interviewed, and to include these prominently in any job adverts, so that people could deselect themselves.
When assessing the applications they receive they should look for evidence in the application form or CV that the applicant has these essential criteria.
If they have not provided that evidence then a quick email should be sent thanking them for their application but informing them that they have not been successful this time.
Dear use candidates name
Thank you for applying for the role of role title, which we advertised on web site.
We have received a very large response. Unfortunately on this occasion there are other applicants who we believe are more suited to the role and so we will not be inviting you to meet us to discuss working with name of company at this time.
The company name team and I are grateful for the time you have taken to submit your application.
This allows employers to spend more time reviewing the applications from candidates that have provided the evidence that they can fulfil the essential criteria.
I conduct telephone interviews with people before I invite them to meet me said Mr Millward, who is currently recruiting sales agents for Abeceder. It is surprising how much you can learn about a candidate over the telephone, and how much tone of voice can tell you about how interested someone really is in the job.
Only those candidates that impress in the telephone interview get invited to meet me he said.
No matter at what stage a candidate leaves the process I make a point of telling them that they are no longer being considered. Most people realise that there are lots of people looking for work at the moment and employers are keen to get the best person for the role they need to fill.
Employers need to be mindful, especially if they sell directly to the general public that every candidate is also a potential customer. Treat them badly as candidates and they will treat you badly as a supplier.
Every candidate also has family and friends and will talk about the companies that have treated them badly during a recruitment process. That might put off a family member or friend who is the ideal candidate for your company.