Why does work matter?

Work (quality) in Transition

Crises can lead to changes in the realm of work; however, it is not guaranteed that this transformation is positive from working people’s perspective. Simultaneously, stiff working structures in one area can prevent necessary changes in another, thus increasing the severity of crises.

Work is therefore fundamental for analysing and overcoming various crises. Many people have developed stronger awareness for change in the way they work due to the covid-19 pandemic.

Floating Item

Climate crisis?

The protection of humans’ material livelihoods and social debates around its structuring are immediately tied to work.

To address environmental destruction and especially climate change, the structure of work and production most likely has to be transformed drastically. Sustainable econ requires, however, not just ‘greener’ jobs in employment, but the active design of work quality as a whole to ensure that changes are feasible. Many places around the globe are already affected by crises which are made more severe by environmental and climate changes.

Crisis of capitalism?

The Financial Crisis 2008, the Covid-19 pandemic, the consequences of the Ukraine war – economic crises regularly raise questions about how stable the established order is.

Various economic and financial crises have shaped the work landscape in recent years and decades. They often make socioeconomic deficits directly or indirectly related to work and production visible or more severe. This results in complex consequences for humans, environment, and social structures, which are closely tied to other crises.

Crisis of reproduction?

For goods and services to be produced for a market, labour power needs to be reproduced – frequently through unpaid work in household and raising children.

Especially in Global North countries, the crisis of care becomes increasingly severe. Unpaid reproductive labour supports the formal productive system of goods and services, but it is unable to carry this weight sustainably in the long run. Albeit increasing awareness of this work’s relevance, unpaid care work remains unevenly distributed, with women bearing the bulk of it – as a result, for example, women are more commonly affected by pension inequality and poverty.

Crisis of democracy?

Regardless of one’s own political affiliation, the organisation of work is a core social issue. It can determine the rise and fall of systems of production and authority.

Many countries have experienced rising support for authoritarian or antidemocratic tendencies in recent years, which often refer directly or indirectly to topics surrounding work. Crises and political responses to them can disrupt social cohesion. Participation and codetermination of work are effective mechanisms to foster democracy and distribute social power more equitably.

Beate Littig, Institute for Advanced Studies, Vienna

In Conversation

Work and consumption

Beate Littig explains why work should be central to sustainability debates:

Our contribution

Making lasting improvements to work quality, research, and policymaking

Many people experience a decrease in their work quality – and hence their wellbeing – through the impact of crises. They have justified concerns about how their lives could change depending on responses to these crises.

But while some aspects of work can make people vulnerable, other aspects can be a source of power, inspiration, and agency. Hence, work quality also constitutes a foundation for hope that complex crises can be overcome.

Work instead of employment

Not everyone who works receives pay. This is why we include unpaid activities such as housework or volunteering in our research.

Capturing multiple activities

Most people engage in multiple different activities each day. This is why we are looking for possibilities to capture not just one job but all work activities a person engages in.

Multidimensional model of work quality

Working conditions are not the only dimension of work that impacts wellbeing. This is why we also look at other dimensions, such as recognition.

Connecting work, research, and policymaking

Not all working people have the opportunity to make themselves heard. This is why we are creating a platform that should be useful to everyone involved.