WRR report 102: Invest in quality of work now

New technology, the growth of flexible working options and a higher workload can greatly affect quality of work. The Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) advises businesses, institutions, social partners and the government to invest in high quality work for everyone who can and wants to work. The WRR report Better work: society’s new mission concludes that good work is essential to nation-wide prosperity, the economy and social cohesion. The report was presented on Wednesday evening 15 January 2020 to Minister Koolmees of Social Affairs and Employment at Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam.

Photo of the presentation of the report

Future of work

Researchers Godfried Engbersen, Monique Kremer and Robert Went presented a clarification of the report first. Minister Koolmees received the first copy and gave an initial response, followed by Mariëtte Hamer (SER chairperson), Anne Megens (AWVN advisor), Semih Eski (chairperson of CNV Youth) and Tof Thissen (director of UWV Werkbedrijf, fomerly the Centre for Work and Income), who participated in a discussion led by Natasja van den Berg.

In the report, the WRR formulates three conditions for good work that are in line with the needs of Dutch society and the nature of the economy: a handle on money, in other words an appropriate salary with certainties attached, a handle on work, or autonomy and relatedness at work, and a handle on life, or a good work-life balance.

Lack of a handle on money, work and life

Many jobs have been added in recent years. But when it comes to good work, studies by the OECD and Eurofound show that the Netherlands is hardly a frontrunner from a European perspective. More and more people have uncertain work (36 percent in 2018). Almost half of all employees indicate that they are experiencing a lack of autonomy at work, a number that has also increased. The quality of work in our country shows an unequal distribution. Workload pressures are highest among people working in the public sector such as healthcare, education or the police force. They have seen an increase in the number of tasks, while their autonomy has been reduced. Another million people want to work, and would prefer to have good work, but are currently unemployed.

Quality of work is a choice

New technology, the growth of flexible working options and a higher workload (having to work faster or do more, or deal with a higher emotional burden) can greatly affect quality of work. However, it does not have to. The future of work is not fixed and is not determined by globalization or technological development. It also depends on our choices and decisions at a national level.

Figure 2 Quality of work in the Netherlands, versus Europe as a whole and over time: twelve indicators

Good work is good for individuals, the economy and society

Good work is essential to nation-wide prosperity and benefits the quality of life of individuals, the economy and society as a whole. Good work promotes commitment and brings out the best in people, resulting in contributions to innovations which in turn benefits the economy. Good work also boosts well-being and the health of workers, reduces sickness absence and allows people to continue working for longer. At the moment almost half of all sickness absence is caused by the work itself and almost 17 percent of all workers suffer from symptoms of burn-out.

Recommendations

The WRR has made nine recommendations to boost handle on money, life and work for everyone who wants to work or is currently working. Companies and institutions are primarily responsible for the quality of work, but the government can also help to create good work for people by imposing good laws and regulations, through supervision, subsidies, requirements for tenders and by providing a strong example as an employer. Recommendations for good work:
 

Handle on money
1.    Prevent unfair competition between workers with various types of contracts.
2.    Develop a system of contract-neutral basic insurance policies and provisions for all citizens; a system suitable for this new world of work.
3.    Update the active labour market policy, for example by paying attention to personal guidance.
4.    Give people on benefits and few prospects on the labour market a basic job.
 

Handle on work
5.    Develop a programme-based approach to good work within businesses and institutions.
6.    Improve the position of workers within work organizations.
 

Handle on life
7.    Create more possibilities to give people the choice of how many hours they want to work, including by offering excellent childcare and care for the elderly, and by making working easier to enforce.
8.    Ensure long-term collective leave schemes for care and more input regarding working hours.
 

Good work
9.    Enshrine the three conditions for good work and the distribution across the population in basic government policy and keep track in the Monitor for Nation-Wide Prosperity.