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Capturing the evasive concept of job quality

Book cover Oxford handbook of Job Quality. Photo: Emma Lord.

The Department of Sociology's Christopher Mathieu is one of the editors of a new and heavy tome clarifying the complex and much-debated issue of the quality of jobs.

It is easy to imagine what it is like to have a good job: good pay, low stress, short hours, a lot of freedom and creativity and a strong sense of meaning. Friendly colleagues would be nice. What about a comfortable workspace or an inspiring environment? A well-stocked snack supply would undeniably be a perk, but is it a determinant of the quality of a job? The elements that could make up a great job situation are potentially endless. But where does one draw the line between factors affecting job quality and one's simple wish to be pampered, paid and praised just for existing?

Even though it is an elusive concept, job quality is a major concern for many governments, employers, trade unions, and employees. In 2015, the Group of 20 (G20) - the world's 19 largest economies and the EU - announced they would improve job quality by "promoting the quality of earnings, reducing labour market insecurity, and promoting good working conditions and healthy work places."

Salary, employment security and work environment could account for measurements of job quality. However, the recently published anthology The Oxford Handbook of Job Quality makes the case that the issue is a complicated matter that stretches beyond wages, job safety and free snacks.

"Despite emerging consensus that job quality is best understood as a multi-dimensional concept, what is striking about past and current foci on job quality is a lack of common agreement about those dimensions and therefore lack of agreement on what constitutes job quality," writes Lund University sociologist Christopher Mathieu with Chris Warhurst (University of Warwick) and Rachele Dwyer (Ohio State University), the volume's editors.

The authors show that certain aspects of job quality are not even derived from the job. Mathieu and his colleagues mention that gender inequality in the workplace can negatively affect one's sense of job quality. And many would argue that child labour is despicable, no matter how safe, sound and well-paid the child is at work.

The book is a benchmark text for anyone wanting to understand job quality. The chapters provide distinct viewpoints on why job quality matters - and there is a range of ways in which job quality is relevant to social, economic and political concerns. Among other things, the authors cover job quality as a factor in itself and as producing effects on other work-related outcomes, catalogue the different contributions and applications of job quality and draw together the many complex conceptual interpretations of job quality used in the sciences.


To learn a lot more about what job quality is and is not, see The Oxford Handbook of Job Quality on Oxford University Press's website.

Christopher Mathieu

Chris Mathieu is an Associate Professor of Organisational and Labour Sociology at the Department of Sociology.

Find more of his research on his personal page.