4160.0 - Measuring Wellbeing: Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics, 2001  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 12/10/2001   
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Contents >> Chapter 6: Work >> Work and wellbeing

Work and wellbeing


Satisfying and rewarding work can contribute to an individual's sense of purpose, identity and self worth. Work enables people to achieve defined goals, and is a means by which they contribute to the productivity and activity of their community. The workplace itself can be a community-within which individuals are valued, trained and rewarded. From a more practical point of view, paid work is crucial to individuals, and their families, because it provides them with income that enables them to consume and save, and thrive in other areas of wellbeing such as housing, health and education. Individual returns from work can continue into retirement, with the long term security provided by superannuation arrangements. In this sense, work affects people's income and wellbeing across their entire life cycle.

The psychological stress suffered by people who want to work but have no work can contribute to poor health, especially if these people have been unemployed over a long period. The health of individuals who have paid employment can also be affected by factors relating to their work, (e.g. by the type and amount of work they have, their working conditions, the stability of their employment, and the amount of control they have over these). Jobs with little or no opportunity for skill development can be stressful, as can highly skilled occupations (e.g. flight control or emergency health care). Overwork, irregular working hours, or jobs that involve physical risk can also contribute to ill health. However, the effect of working arrangements such as irregular hours on wellbeing will depend largely on the preferences of the jobholder. Some people may prefer to work longer, shorter or more irregular hours at different stages of their working life, and stress is less likely to occur where work preferences are being met.

Work transactions inherently involve both employees and employers, and the wellbeing of these players is interrelated (with employers supplying jobs and employees supplying labour). Employers are affected by the supply, skill and capacity of the labour available to them, by the costs involved in hiring labour, and by work related trends and legislation. Not only work, but the working arrangements arrived at between employers and employees are central to individual and social wellbeing.

Unpaid work also affects the wellbeing of those performing it. The lack of value often attached to unpaid work can affect the self-esteem of unpaid workers. Caring work, for children or for people with illness or disability, can be isolating, and the opportunities and income available to those involved in this work may also be limited. On the other hand, there are many non-material rewards associated with voluntary and caring work that can enhance wellbeing.


The fact that work is a major contributor to the nation's economy means it is centrally important to the wellbeing of society. The labour force is a fundamental input to domestic economic production, and its size and composition are therefore crucial factors in economic growth. Economic work also contributes directly and financially to social welfare and aged support through taxation and superannuation arrangements. Non-economic work also contributes to economic wellbeing by, for example, rearing children who eventually supply the labour force, supporting people involved in economic work, and delivering unpaid welfare services, such as caring, throughout the community.

Widespread unemployment can affect the prosperity, or even threaten the existence, of communities. Increases in the number of people out of work or in financial crisis mean greater numbers of people are dependent on welfare, which can put pressure on the social environment in other areas of concern, (e.g. crime and health). Reduced employment opportunities in particular industries can result in income disparities throughout the population.

The workplace can be an important forum where people interact, and younger people are socialised in adult behaviour. This arena for developing positive social functioning may be limited in communities where there is widespread unemployment. The amount and quality of unpaid work, both household and charitable, done within a community, also have implications for the health and cohesion of that community.

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