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What makes a good job?
The concept of a ‘good job’ or ‘good work’ is broad and debated among policy-makers, academics, economists, and many others.
Because jobs play such a significant part in most people’s lives, understanding what makes a good job (often referred to as job quality) is fundamental to both the well-being of workers as well as the overall well-being of society.
But what is a good job? Who has access to them, and who does not? Are good jobs concentrated in certain industries or sectors? If there are good jobs, are there bad jobs?
These are important questions that impact individuals, but they also impact the broader labour market.
For example, more than three-quarters (78%) of Canadian employees say they prefer working from home over an in-person workplace. This shift has fundamentally changed the labour market as more people view a good job as a remote job. As a result, industries and employers may adjust their practices to attract and retain employees.
There is no clear agreement about what a good job is and no consensus on how the term should be defined or used.
Economists generally focus on wages, hours worked, and turnover; sociologists highlight non-economic aspects of work, including well-being, autonomy and control, and opportunities for advancement; psychologists insist that whether a job is good or bad depends on individual perceptions or satisfaction.
Statistics Canada has used six broad dimensions to assess job quality: income and benefits, career prospects, work intensity, working-time quality, skills and discretion, and social environment.
This disconnect about how we define good jobs is concerning: it means that policy-makers, employers, researchers, and others cannot align their work to best serve the interests of workers and the Canadian public.
Despite the ongoing debate surrounding the criteria for measuring job quality, there are seven essential factors that emerge as clear and consistent indicators of job quality:
Adequate compensation is a cornerstone of a "good" job. Workers seek fair and competitive pay that reflects the value of their skills, experience, and the market standards for their roles. A competitive salary ensures financial stability and reflects recognition of their contributions.
Hours of Work
The number of hours worked can significantly impact job satisfaction. A good job should provide a balanced workload, avoiding extremes of both overwork and underwork.
Job security and opportunities for career growth are vital components of job quality. Workers value a sense of stability, with reasonable expectations of job tenure. Additionally, opportunities for advancement, promotions, skill development, and the potential to progress within the organization are characteristic of good jobs.
This component considers the physical and mental burden of the job. It encompasses factors such as exhaustion, stress levels, exposure to dangerous conditions, and physically demanding tasks. A good job should prioritize worker well-being and minimize excessive stress or hazardous conditions.
Job satisfaction is closely tied to the content and nature of the work itself, with good jobs being both inherently interesting and fulfilling. Aspects such as job autonomy, the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to society, and the ability to help others are often considered important parts of good jobs.
Positive relationships in the workplace are fundamental for job satisfaction. Workers value healthy and supportive relationships with both management and co-workers. A collaborative and respectful work environment fosters a sense of belonging and contributes significantly to overall job fulfillment.
Alignment of Skills
The extent to which a worker's skills and qualifications match job requirements directly impacts both job satisfaction and performance. A well-matched skill set enables employees to excel in their roles, fosters confidence, and contributes to a sense of fulfillment and effectiveness within the job. It also reduces the likelihood of skill-related stress and dissatisfaction, making it an important determinant of job quality from the worker's perspective.
These categories, of course, do not encompass every possible aspect of what might be considered a good job but summarize the many significant job characteristics valued by workers worldwide.
In essence, the quest to define a 'good' job is an ongoing journey that we embark on as academics, researchers or policy-makers and individuals on deeply personal journeys that remind us that a good job is much more than wages and hours.
Dr. Suzanne Spiteri is a sociologist with several years of experience in both qualitative and mixed-methods data analysis. She leads labour-related projects that explore labour market tightness and the labour market outcomes of under-represented groups.