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"The Quality of Jobs"

International scholars participate in ILR conference

Does it feel like the average work day has become more intense?

Research indicates that is probably the case, both for workers in the U.S. and in Europe.

Scholars from major universities gathered recently at Cornell University to share some of those research findings at "The Quality of Jobs" conference. The conference was sponsored by the ILR School and the Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR's academic journal.

Participants discussed the intensification of work, organizational restructuring and other trends having an impact on job quality and satisfaction.

"When we talk about intensification, this refers to how hard I work during my work hours, and if I have to work longer and more unpredictable hours," says Rose Batt, Alice Cook Professor of Women and Work and editor of the ILR Review.

Based on studies presented at the conference, she adds, it's clear that this has become a universal issue, bringing with it growing concerns about worker stress and the ability to have work/life balance.

Batt says job quality is also affected by decisions companies have to make under increasing pressure to reduce costs.

"They often undertake strategies designed to cut labor costs. Companies might restructure benefit plans, cut staffing levels so that those left behind have more to do, or make pay more variable, meaning people get bonuses versus regular pay increases."

"At the same time, there are jobs that might be getting better, where people have more leeway in their work or get better pay."

"The purpose of the conference was to explore the various dimensions of this phenomenon," Batt explains, in an effort to provide more insight about how and why the quality of jobs is changing.

Another theme emerging from the conference relates to research presented on low-wage and immigrant workers, and evidence that individuals in these groups are taking great initiative to improve their working conditions, she said.

"There were some interesting papers that showed how people in what we think of as low-skilled jobs are developing strategies on their own to make their jobs more interesting and showing employers how their skills are really valuable in achieving better quality products and services."

Selected papers from the conference will be published in an upcoming special issue of the ILR Review.

"We're evolving our academic journal to get more diverse submissions from a broader range of disciplines and to get greater international participation."

For "The Quality of Jobs" conference, ILR received 65 submissions from scholars in political science, sociology, economics, psychology and organizational behavior, as well as industrial and labor relations. Almost half were international submissions.

Batt says there are plans to continue holding conferences and to publish special issues of the journal based on the topics covered.

In April, another ILR-sponsored conference in Montreal will focus on "the international comparison of working time" and take an in-depth look at the policies in different countries that allow more flexibility in jobs and that promote work and family balance.

Next fall, another conference will be held in Washington, D.C, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Labor, which will be celebrating its 100-year anniversary.