Loughborough University
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What is a good job? Modelling, measuring and improving job quality

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posted on 2014-05-09, 12:28 authored by Wendy Jones
Job quality is important: there is a substantial evidence base which illustrates the potential risks of poor quality work. These arise from the occurrence of accidents and disease due to unmanaged hazards, as well as from psychosocial factors such as poor pay and security, shift working or the combination of low control and high demands. There is also a body of evidence which demonstrates a positive impact from good quality work, with contributions to longevity, improved health and happiness, and business success. Despite this recognition of the importance of job quality, there is a lack of agreement around exactly what it is: particularly when trying to define it as a single construct. This research aimed to address this insufficiency by exploring the concept of the good job, and seeking to define job quality from an ergonomics perspective. This approach encourages a broad outlook, taking account of the physical and psychosocial aspects of work, the interactions between them, and the impact of individual variation. A theoretical model is presented to summarise the concept of job quality based on these considerations: this was applied to a study of three bus companies using both a quantitative survey tool and qualitative methods. In developing the model, an initial study was undertaken using repertory grid interviews to explore notions of work and job quality, and to identify the most important areas for further investigation. Interviews were conducted with individuals (n=18) who were employed in a wide range of jobs, and varied substantially in their priorities and preferences. Job content and relationships were often identified as more important than pay levels; but there was also evidence of compromise, where interviewees had prioritised jobs which met their practical needs. Also, individuals perceived a good job differently from one which was good for their health, and overall did not consider good health to be an essential outcome of a good job. Two subsequent studies were undertaken with a focus on jobs commonly done by those with low formal education, who may have more to gain from improved job quality. Semi-structured interviews were carried out firstly with cleaners and manufacturing employees (n=30) and then with bus drivers (n=80). A number of job features such as safety and job/employment security were found to be important for almost all interviewees, and thus were identified as core features of a good job. Other factors such as autonomy and preferences for particular working patterns were more variable, highlighting the importance of job-employee fit. The theoretical model of job quality constructed was based on these findings and the literature. The model was applied in a qualitative study of bus and coach drivers in three companies to assess whether this was a good job, whether it could be a good job, and what the barriers to this might be. In two of the companies bus driving was found to be a poor job, with low pay and inadequate health and safety management. In the third company it was better but there were still challenges: particularly time pressures, low physical activity, and varied and unsociable working patterns. It was identified that some of the barriers to good job quality for bus drivers and potentially in jobs more generally are difficult to address as they are intrinsic to the job. The best solution to these difficulties is to ensure a good fit between job and employee. Other barriers were identified which appeared to be financial, such as low pay in the two smaller companies, but they could also reflect cultural factors within the organisation or within wider society. A final study considered the measurement of job quality, in the light of the importance and extent of individual variation highlighted throughout the research. The DGB-Index (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund Index), a questionnaire tool designed and used in Germany which specifically accounts for this, was used in the same three bus companies (n=423). The results were compared with those from the qualitative study and reached similar conclusions, thus confirming the utility of the DGB-Index for job measurement and comparison when translated into English. The research demonstrated that it is possible to define and measure job quality and to compare it between organisations. The model of a good job constructed to facilitate this differs from those found in the literature: it takes into account the variation between individuals and the fact that they construe good jobs in different ways. Thus it highlights the importance to job quality of a good fit between job and individual in addition to the need for work to be good in terms of the more universal features such as job security, safety and adequate pay.



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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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