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Job satisfaction

Business prof breaks new ground with study on job fulfilment

By Jennifer Kelly

How important is work to older workers? It's a question Gordon Cooke and Deidre Hutchings investigated, with surprising results.

Working with researchers from McMaster University, University of Guelph and others, Dr. Cooke, Ms. Hutchings, and the research team released preliminary results from their Comparative Analysis of the Employee Effects of Non-Standard Work Schedules project.

Their research was recently presented in Fredericton at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Canada's largest multidisciplinary gathering of academics.

Dr. Cooke, associate professor of industrial relations, was the lead on a research study into job satisfaction among older workers working in so called "dead-end" jobs in rural communities. He and the team describe a true dead-end job as one requiring little training and which have poor pay and benefits.

The research team primarily used focus groups in Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, and Ireland to gain an understanding of workers' concerns regarding their work schedules. Inside each of these three locations, the team studied the impacts of work schedules with individuals within an urban area as well as with individuals in small, remote communities.

Using a large Statistics Canada database, the team calculated that, nation-wide, just seven per cent of 40-plus workers hold menial jobs with low pay and benefits, while 17 per cent work in jobs with non-standard (i.e. part-time and/or temporary) hours.

What they discovered about the satisfaction levels of these workers was unexpected: those with non-standard hours actually had slightly higher job satisfaction than other older workers. Dr. Cooke and his team discovered that older workers in rural communities who fell under this category tended to have a particularly "positive outlook on life" and that working in this type of position has had little impact on their overall happiness.

"These older rural workers tend to de-emphasize their work, and focus on their non-work lives," explained Dr. Cooke. "Instead, they focus on family, friends and hobbies."

Another strong finding? The power of community.

"They tended to say, 'I cut my own wood, I enjoy my life. I have to manage my money carefully, but neighbours help neighbours around these parts,'" Dr. Cooke said.

The workers also highlighted the beauty of a rural community and the importance of remaining in the place they were born, as reasons to keep working. If working in a so called "dead-end" job meant they could stay in their home town, these workers are willing to accept whatever work was available.

Dr. Cooke hopes these discoveries will benefit the part-time worker. "This research provides much more in-depth understanding of the perceived effect of work schedules on work, family, and social lives of various subgroups of labour force participants," said Dr. Cooke. "This qualitative study will enrich the findings provided by existing quantitative research and allow employers and governments to develop targeted public policy solutions for the benefit of the 21st century worker."

Deidre Hutchings is an MBA research assistant.