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Is any job a dream job?

Ksenia Zheltoukhova

20 July 2012

New research revealed yesterday that 77% of Brits have given up on the prospect of landing their dream job. Although 51% said that the most important thing for a job was to be enjoyable, dearth of opportunities in the labour market lead many to opt for higher pay and job security.

The Good work/Any work debate dominated our thinking since the start of the recession. With just over 1 million young people unemployed, Good Capitalism may be a distant concept for those who view any job with (good) wages as a way out of long-term unemployment.

At the same time, our research confirms that this approach to solving the unemployment issue is short-sighted. While youth unemployment has scarring effects on the wages, employment and health of the individuals in the long run, beginning a career in low-paid, low skilled jobs risks a future in a low-paid low-skilled role. In addition, being in a poor quality job – characterised by low levels of control, high demands and complexity, job insecurity, and unfair pay –  is worse for individuals’ mental health than unemployment.

Risking to cause controversy here – let me point out a difference between a ‘dream job’ and an ‘enjoyable’, or ‘good’ job. My colleagues working on the Missing Million programme find that many young people simply don’t know what jobs and opportunities are out there. As a result, they are risking to be waiting for a ‘dream job’ to come about, while there are many ‘enjoyable’ jobs that are available but are not widely dreamt of.

‘Good’ jobs don’t have anything to do with the content of the job per se. Good work is characterised by the development of skills; choice, flexibility and control over working hours and the pace of work; trust, communication and the ability to have a say in decisions that affect individuals; and a balance between effort and reward. In that sense, being in control over your job and enjoying it is similar for astrophysicists, bus drivers and Olympic athletes alike.

Employers providing individuals with good jobs reap benefits in staff satisfaction, engagement and productivity. However, hanging a company’s mission statement on the wall (website) is not enough to achieve that. It is up to managers and senior leaders to make the organisational purpose personal for employees at all levels of organisations, ensuring meaningful work for all.

Personally, I remember myself starting an internship at The Work Foundation for a mere summer work experience, and then suddenly realising I was in my dream job indeed! That wake-up call has been serving me well for the past two years.