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Value of Work

This research project examines the (changing) value of work in contemporary society
Value of Work


Over recent decades, the nature and organisation of work transformed as a result of – amongst others – technological developments and globalisation in many advanced economies. Workers and employers coped with profound changes in the organisation of work (including a trend towards more flexibility and out-sourcing) and there was a shift within families with respect to the balance between work and family lives. Both media and experts have paid particular attention to questions on how various macro-level developments affect the quantity of jobs. However, all these transformations also have a severe impact on how individuals experience and value work and the ‘utility’ individuals derive from their jobs – both in pecuniary and non-pecuniary terms. Although scientists, employers and employees share the notion that how work is organised has radically changed, we have yet to arrive at a coherent picture of the implications of these developments. Recently, the COVID-19 crisis added an extra dimension to discussions on work values and quality of work.

The project entitled ‘Value of Work’ aims to shed more light on the pecuniary ánd non-pecuniary implications (see Box I for more information on ‘Value of Work’). In the first and second part of the project we conducted a literature review, performed secondary data analyses (e.g. on WVS/ EVS and ISSP data) and held qualitative interviews to map developments and cross-national variation in the value of work. Moreover, we conducted the fieldwork of our first Value of Work Monitor [WWM’19]. WWM is a large-scale, national survey addressing the value and valuation of work in the Netherlands. The survey aims to examine how value of work is related to work characteristics, the (organisational) context and personal characteristics, and how institutions on work and income influence outcomes. The first round of WWM was conducted in Spring 2019 among almost 3.500 Dutch citizens aged 18 to 70 years. The findings were disseminated through reports (final report, policy briefs, final conference (in Dutch), working papers (WRR, AIAS-HSI) and at the SASE 2020 conference). Several scientific (international) publications are currently in progress.

In Spring 2020, we will conduct a second round of the Value of Work Monitor [WWM’21] to test whether and how the COVID-19 crisis has affected work values and quality of work. This round will have a partly longitudinal character. An addition to the previous round will be the inclusion of items on government interventions in the area of work and income, organisational culture and digitalization in the work environment. First results are expected in the second half of 2021.

Box I What do we mean by ‘Value of Work’?

In this research project, “value of work” in the first place refers to ‘general’ valuations of work, which can be captured in concepts such as the importance of work to one’s life (‘work centrality’), work ethic (e.g. ‘It is humiliating to receive money without having to work’) and ‘employment commitment’ (e.g. ‘I would enjoy having a paid job even if I did not need the money’). These concepts are not dependent on employment status and can be evaluated both by workers and by non-workers. Second, “value of work” may refer to the value individuals derive from their jobs, which is captured in concepts such as ‘job satisfaction’ and ‘quality of working life’, as well as through extrinsic and intrinsic rewards from work (‘job outcomes’). These concepts are by their nature restricted to those individuals currently employed. In other words: the general level refers to the embeddedness and the role work play in people’s lives, whereas the individual level refers to utility derived directly from one’s own job.

In principle, the value of work can be both about the value to an individual and to society. The value of work at the level of the individual addresses the question to what extent and how work has pecuniary and non-pecuniary value to an individual. Societal value refers to the extent to which work adds to the functioning and prosperity of society. In this project we focus on the value of work to an individual.

Theoretical background

Given the broad and varied nature of the value of work it is considered essential to adopt an interdisciplinary perspective, combining insights and approaches from different disciplines, such as sociology, psychology and economics.

Research questions in the project

  • (How) does the value of work differ between advanced economies and across time?
  • How are the value and valuation of both paid and unpaid work related to a) individual and work characteristics, b) the (organizational) context in which the work is conducted and c) how to both formal and informal institutions on work and income affect the realization of the maximum value of work?
  • Has the value and valuation of work been changing since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how is this related to individual, work, organizations and institutional characteristics?

Multi-method approach

Various methods are used to provide a rich collection of evidence-based insights, including statistical analyses of large scale surveys among a representative sample of the population and qualitative analyses of in-depth interviews with a selected sample of working and non-working individuals.

Literature review

  • Conen, W.S. & De Beer, P.T. (2018). The value of work in a changing labour market: a review and research agenda. (AIAS-HSI Working Paper 1). Amsterdam: AIAS-HSI.

 Qualitative research

Secondary data analyses

The Value of Work Monitor [Waarde van Werk Monitor]

The Value of Work Monitor [WWM] is a large-scale, national survey on the value of work in the Netherlands. It provides insight into how the value and valuation of both paid and unpaid work is related to a) individual and work characteristics, b) the (organizational) context and c) formal and informal institutions on work and income. The first wave was conducted in Spring 2019 among approx. 3.500 Dutch citizens between 18-70 years of age [WWM’19]. The second wave will be held in the first half of 2021 [WWM’21].

Figuur 1.1 Raamwerk waarde van (on)betaald werk en determinanten
This illustration comes from the Dutch final report


Prof. dr. P.T. (Paul) de Beer


Dr. W.S. (Wieteke) Conen


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About the Goldschmeding Foundation

The Goldschmeding Foundation works towards an inclusive and sustainable society based on the belief that a better world is created when people serve each other's interests. To this end, we support innovative practical projects and excellent scientific research within the themes of Inclusive Labour Market, Circular Economy and Humane Society.