OECD Papers on Well-being and Inequalities

This series features working papers on the measurement agenda for well-being, inclusion, sustainability and equal opportunity as well as papers seeking to deepen the understanding of the drivers of these issues, the ways in which they interact and how they evolve. These papers are prepared by OECD staff, external experts or by outside consultants working on OECD projects.


The relationship between quality of the working environment, workers’ health and well-being

Evidence from 28 OECD countries

This paper operationalises the OECD Guidelines for Measuring the Quality of the Working Environment (OECD, 2017) to describe job characteristics among European countries, the United States and Korea in 2010 and 2015. The analysis extends the range of aspects of quality of the working environment beyond those featuring in the Job Strain index presented by (Cazes, 2015), which is used to monitor implementation of the OECD Job Strategy, but at the cost of a more limited country coverage. While the two indices of job strain are largely consistent both across countries and over time, all of the job characteristics included in the “extended” index turns out to matter for workers’ well-being. The framework uses the job demands-resources model ( (Demerouti, 2001) that stresses the importance of balancing the demands of the job and the resources that are available to workers to meet those demands. Workers are classified as (heavily) strained when the number of job demands they face (largely) exceeds the number of job resources they benefit from, and conversely, they are classified as (very) well-resourced when their job resources (largely) exceed their job demands.

On average among 28 OECD countries, about one third of employees are (moderately or heavily) strained at work, while one half are well-resourced. The share of employees that are heavily strained is close to 10%. Job strain is relatively more frequent among employees with low education and low occupational skills, and it is relatively less frequent in the service sector and in the public sector. Due to composition effects, women hold on average slightly less strained jobs than men. The share of strained workers has slightly declined on average over the 2010-2015 period, falling in a majority of countries. The improvement in working conditions is related to better prospects of career advancement, higher take-up of training, stronger social support and organisational participation at work, higher flexibility of working time, as well as lower exposure to physical risk factors, hard physical demands and unsocial work schedule. On the other hand, perceptions of job insecurity, intimidation and discrimination, as well as work intensity have been on the rise. Finally, quality of the working environment is strongly associated with workers’ well-being as measured by mental and physical health, days of sickness, job satisfaction as well as job motivation, and the associated effects are potentially large. For most outcomes, perceived intimidation and discrimination at work is one of the most powerful predictor of workers’ well-being.


Keywords: well-being, workers' health, job quality, quality of the working environment
JEL: J81: Labor and Demographic Economics / Labor Standards: National and International / Labor Standards: Working Conditions; J88: Labor and Demographic Economics / Labor Standards: National and International / Labor Standards: Public Policy; J71: Labor and Demographic Economics / Labor Discrimination / Discrimination; J58: Labor and Demographic Economics / Labor-Management Relations, Trade Unions, and Collective Bargaining / Labor-Management Relations, Trade Unions, and Collective Bargaining: Public Policy
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