Hardly a day goes by without a report on the damaging effects of having bad work. Take the long hours culture, for example, that is still so entrenched in certain sectors in the UK. Long hours raise levels of stress and heart disease. Productivity goes down. Talent is wasted. Individuals who choose not to ‘play the game’, perhaps because they want a better work-life balance, are overlooked for promotion.
This dark side of careers challenges what we currently do in schools to prepare young people for the world of work. Are we doing enough to offer young people a morally inspiring view of work or just preparing them to accept the world of work as it is?
From a careers perspective, we should not forget that our primary purpose is to help young people create satisfying and rewarding working lives for themselves. Alongside this is an unwritten assumption that the work that people choose to do should contribute to the well-being of others as well as to their own personal autonomy and wellbeing.
The concept of ‘having good work’ underpins everything that needs to happen if young people are to flourish and find fulfilment through their careers. There is no universal recipe for what constitutes ‘good work’ and the relevance of all of the ingredients might not be immediately apparent to young people, but we need a starting point. The six Es framework is my attempt to give young people a tool with which to think about their career choices, evaluate their opportunities and care for their careers (rather than just to manage them).
The six ‘E’s of good work are:
Being able to use your talents and skills to the full – doing what you are good at – is a key ingredient of having good work. Good employers recognise the importance of this for motivating and developing staff. They also change the design of jobs where they can to provide individuals with the right challenge.
Good work is pleasurable. Individuals enjoy doing it. Mihaly Csikszentmihayli identified this in his work on states of ‘flow’. Individuals who are totally immersed in their work will experience more intrinsic satisfaction and achieve more.
Individuals who feel more positively connected with their work team, reference group and other colleagues and customers will also experience greater job satisfaction.
Good work is also ethical work. Work should not require individuals to break the law, behave corruptly or to exploit others. The experience of individuals who face whistleblowing dilemmas shows how stressful it can be to confront wrongdoing in the workplace.
Green issues are not always uppermost in people’s minds when they think about what constitutes good work, but putting off greener ways of working until another day is damaging to us all. Initiatives such as ‘Your Green Future’ (www.yourgreenfuture.org.uk) are starting to tackle the issue of green skills development in young people.
Fair treatment and the removal of barriers to opportunity are key features of good work. The Equality Act (2010) aims to help individuals with protected characteristics from discrimination in getting in and on at work; and many employers have enlightened policies to promote equality, diversity and inclusion.
There are many ways of introducing the six ‘E’s of good work and of exploring the relationship between them. Much depends on the age and immediate needs of the young people themselves. The goal is to empower young people with a vision of what career wellbeing can mean and to help them develop the agility, optimism and resilience to strive for 'good work'.