Vologda specialists study a set of factors affecting the development of labor potential of Russian citizens, as well as the growth of labor productivity and economic indicators of the country
In the era of technological innovation and robotization of production, human resources remain the main drivers of economic development. Basically, the importance of human resources is not questioned, but such important issues as factors of efficiency of using the employees' labor potential, assessment of the external conditions' influence, primarily, working conditions on self-realization of personal and professional qualities, contribution of the quality of work life to economic indicators of management, etc., still require separate attention.
Making human capital the cornerstone of socio-economic policy drastically changes the requirements for the institutional environment, the business climate, the development of a working person’s skills, the protection of their basic qualities, especially health, work motivation, etc.
Scientists of VolRC RAS (Vologda) have been studying socio-cultural factors of economic growth (professional vocation, quality of labor potential, quality of work life, etc.) and monitoring qualitative characteristics of the working-age population for a long time. Researchers determine how vocation work affects the growth of labor productivity, what are the limitations of labor potential efficiency and how they are reflected in the social well-being of employees and the quality of work life.
Galina Valentinovna Leonidova – Candidate of Economics, Leading Researcher, Head of the Laboratory for the Studies of Labor Potential Development Issues of the Federal State Budgetary Scientific Institution “Vologda Research Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences” (VolRC RAS) (Vologda) – speaks about a list of key indicators that make up the quality of work life of a country's employed population, including the concept of a “healthy workplace”; she also discusses vocation productivity and why it is not only accompanied by increased job and life satisfaction, but also has a pronounced economic effect, unlike, for example, precarious employment, which acts as a barrier to realization of the labor potential of a person.
“It has been quite a long time, namely, the late 90s of the last century, since Vologda Research Center RAS employees have been studying the issues related to the quality characteristics of labor resources, labor efficiency, health of working population and other problems of the social and working sphere. Three years ago, we turned to the problem of the quality of work life, considering this indicator widely within the concept of quality of life in general and within the ILO concept “Decent Work” in particular. The necessity of the address to this direction of researches is caused by a number of modern tendencies in social and working sphere of the country.
I will only focus on the main ones. First, a significant decrease in the number of people under working age (according to Rosstat, it will decrease from 27,372,200 people in 2021 (18.7% of the total population) to 20,358,600 people in 2035 – 14.2%). Therefore, this process will affect the working-age population in due course, which will inevitably entail the need to find ways of increasing work efficiency. Secondly, the mortality rate of the working-age population in Russia is more than fourfold higher than in the EU countries. Today, reduction of mortality rate of working age population (up to 350 cases per 100 thousand people) is defined as a target of the priority project “Healthcare.” Thirdly, the share of employees engaged in harmful and (or) dangerous working conditions is about 38%. That means health problems, injuries, etc. Occupational diseases often become a cause of disability and mortality of working age population. Fourth, the spread of unstable forms of employment, due to various reasons, including the digitalization of all spheres of life and the technologization of the economy. We can also mention the fact that our country is lagging behind in terms of labor productivity. It seems that even this incomplete list is enough to talk about the relevance of addressing the problem of conditions and quality of work life, because we associate a large part of our life with work, with being in the workplace,” Galina Leonidova emphasized the relevance and urgent need for research to assess the level and condition of the quality of Russian citizens’ work life.
What should be understood by the term “quality of work life” (QWL) today and what indicators does it include?
“The study of theoretical and methodological aspects of QWL showed multifaceted and subjective-objective content of this socio-economic category. The modern concept of QWL is based on a direct link between the level of labor productivity and the degree of self-realization of an employee, the satisfaction with their vital needs through labor activity. In other words, the category “quality of work life” is multifaceted and it is difficult to assess with the help of one single indicator; therefore, a comprehensive approach, including objective and subjective assessment, is used for its analysis. Our research was based on a positional view of the category of QWL as a factor of preservation, efficient use and development of the employee's labor potential. Taking this into consideration, we understand the quality of work life as a set of conditions of work organization, providing physical, mental and social well-being of an employee, contributing to the fullest realization of his labor potential,” Vologda scientist explained.
Specialists of VolRC RAS have developed an original methodology for assessing the quality of work life, which, according to Galina Leonidova, “covers the system of interrelated individual indicators reflecting both the level of QWL, on the basis of official statistics (objective indicators), and the satisfaction of the working population with the aspects of working life (subjective indicators).
Objective indicators: labor market indicators (registered unemployment rate; employment rate); indicators describing the material well-being of employed population (the ratio of average monthly nominal wages of the employed to the subsistence minimum of working-age population; Kaitz index; R/P 10% ratio); labor conditions indicators (number of injured employees with loss of ability to work for one working day or more and with fatal outcome; expenses on labor protection measures per year; the number of persons with professional diseases; the number of employees involved in jobs with dangerous and harmful working conditions) characterize the situation on the labor market, population income level, working conditions, etc.
Subjective indicators of satisfaction of the employed population with various components of QWL (wages, working and organizational conditions, moral and psychological environment in the team, general job content, sustainability of employment, career opportunities) – are related to the formation of personal attitude of employees to the aspects of their working life.”
There are different approaches to the assessment of the aspects of the work-life quality. Specialists of VolRC RAS stick to the methodology based on the integral approach. Here the integral index of the quality of work life serves as a measurement indicator. Galina Leonidova told us what it is determined by and how it is measured:
“The determination of the integral index of the QWL is based on the index approach, which makes it possible to measure various characteristics of the quality of work life by bringing them into a comparable form. First, the initial indicators are standardized, then the partial indexes of the QWL are calculated (as the arithmetic mean of their constituent indicators). Then we determine the values of objective and subjective QWL indexes and the integral QWL index (as an arithmetic mean of objective and subjective QWL indexes). The maximum value of the integral QWL index is 1.
Analysis of the index of objective quality of labor life in the NWFD regions in 2005 and 2018 shows that the leading positions are occupied by St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Oblast with consistently high indexes characterizing the labor market, material well-being and working conditions of the employed population. The Republic of Karelia closes the rating with the lowest indexes of the labor market and material well-being of employees. The Arkhangelsk, Kaliningrad, and Vologda oblasts are also among the regions with the lowest rankings. The calculation of the integral index of the quality of labor life makes it possible to: determine the place of each region in the rating by the quality of work life of the employed population; compare regions by quality of work life and determine the level of differentiation of territories by this indicator; analyze the dynamics of changes in the time aspect of both the quality of work life as a whole and in the context of its individual components.”
As the researcher emphasized, “the advantage of our methodology is that it allows us to consistently aggregate private indicators into an integral index, making it possible not only to analyze changes in the quality of labor life in dynamics, but also to determine the causes of these changes. This methodology can serve as a tool for managing the quality of work life of the employed population at different territorial levels (municipal, regional, federal).”
Vologda scientists have studied the influence of professional vocation as a socio-cultural phenomenon on the economic indicators of people's labor activity. They conducted a comparative analysis of labor potential in Belarus and the Vologda Oblast.
“Today, non-economic factors have an increasing influence on the socio-economic development: socio-political, geographical, psychological, infrastructural, socio-cultural (motivation, mentality, cultural level, education, professional knowledge and skills), health conditions, etc. These factors have an indirect and multi-stage influence; they have a longer time lag in comparison with the effect of economic factors. As economic practice shows, not taking them into account results in delays and inadequacy of measures carried out at different levels of regulating and forecasting the national economy. In our research we addressed to one of these factors – the phenomenon of “professional vocation.”
Vocation is a point of contact between natural abilities and personal preferences, the internal connection of a person with their chosen profession. We set this research goal as part of a grant project carried out in cooperation with our colleagues from the Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus. We have been cooperating with them in research activities for quite a long time. The results of the research surprised us, especially in their similarity, despite the fact that they were conducted in different countries – Russia (the research field was the Vologda Oblast) and Belarus (the study was conducted in the Mogilev Oblast). The studies showed that the phenomenon of vocation is recognized by the residents of both countries and acts as a defining characteristic of a significant part of the population: thus, in Belarus 50% of the respondents noted that their profession (main activity) corresponds to their vocation, in Vologda 57% of the respondents said so. It means that professional vocation is not an exclusive phenomenon, but a standard of work life of the population in Belarus and Russia.
The opinions of Russians, Vologda residents in this case, and Belarusians were similar in all major respects. For example, the prevalence of work by vocation increases along with the increase in the level of education of the employees; the respondents who mentioned the correspondence of their profession with their vocation expressed less importance of high wages and the material component of labor in general; yet they expressed greater importance of professional development and helping people, compared to those who mentioned the lack of correspondence of their profession with their vocation. Those who work by vocation proved to be more active in their pursuit of professional development: work by vocation is associated with more explicit success in activity compared to work not by vocation, in particular in career growth, etc. Basically, these similarities in results can be explained. As the Russian President said in his article, our countries “for decades, for centuries, have developed as a single economic system,” Galina Leonidova shared the results of the project.
The prevalence of vocation work among men and women is almost identical. As the scientist specified, “people over the age of 35 are more likely to work by vocation, which probably indicates two things: first, people need time to realize their professional vocation, and second, priorities change with age, and work by vocation becomes more valuable. Most people who work by vocation are in the military (82%), health care (80%), and education (75%). Professional vocation does not necessarily coincide with the profession acquired. Nevertheless, the number of those who work by vocation is quite high – 71%. The latter two spheres are characterized by the majority of those who work by vocation, having a specialty that corresponds to their occupation, which they obtained in a professional organization. For almost a third of employees (27%) the professional vocation they had found and pursued did not correspond to their acquired specialty.”
The result of the scientific research revealed the ratio of those who work by profession and by vocation.
“Our assessments have shown that those people who work by vocation have a more responsible attitude to labor activity and are distinguished by greater labor efficiency. They are characterized by higher quality of performance of planned tasks, they deliver work without re-doing it and it doesn't get any negative feedback, they make rationalization proposals, suggestions on improvement of work in a shop or department, etc. In addition, these employees are less prone to violations of labor discipline, non-performance of tasks, disruption of work, accidents, equipment downtime, documentation errors, administrative errors, etc. People whose professional activity corresponds to their vocation work harder and use their qualities and skills to a greater extent. In order to identify the economic effects of professional work, we divided the employees into four groups: 1) working by profession and by vocation; 2) working by profession, but not by vocation; 3) working by vocation, but not by profession; 4) working not by profession and not by vocation. We analyzed the quality of labor potential, the level of its realization, average wages, job and life satisfaction, etc. for each selected group. As our calculations show, working by vocation is the key to a fuller realization of all qualitative characteristics of labor potential without exception. Moreover, if one's specialty and vocation do not coincide, then those people who chose to work by vocation have a more intensive realization of labor potential and higher wages. The analysis showed that conformity of labor activity to professional vocation of an employee gives positive economic effect in the form of higher labor productivity, higher level of realization of labor potential, higher wages and, as a consequence, higher amount of monthly tax payments to the regional budget,” the researcher concluded.
Source: Vologda Oblast labor potential quality monitoring data, FSBSI VolRC RAS
How did your hypothesis that vocation work affects the objective economic performance of employment prove to be true?
“The main hypothesis of the study was that respondents who noted the compliance of their profession (main activity) with their vocation would have more positive indicators characterizing them in terms of human potential quality (health, social well-being, labor motivation, creative labor activity, labor values, career growth, material well-being, professional optimism) as compared to those who noted non-compliance of their profession (main activity) with their vocation. Accordingly, the economic effect of working by vocation should be higher. In fact, this hypothesis was confirmed – the vocation phenomenon has actual socio-economic effects, such as satisfaction with work and life, higher labor productivity, higher level of realization of labor potential and higher wages of such employees,” the researcher specified.
Does the lack of career guidance in schools affect the choice of profession today or is it mostly determined by the demand in the labor market?
“How can we make sure that a person finds a vocation after graduation? That is a difficult question. Obviously, a large percentage (about 30–40%) of people today do not work by the specialty obtained in a professional organization is the “fault” of insufficient vocational guidance and demand in the labor market, or rather the mismatch of demand and areas of professional training, as well as the massification (devaluation, to some extent) of higher education (when students just want to get a diploma, not a specialty). Today, we think that these issues should receive more research attention. However, we can see that the vocation phenomenon needs to be taken into account on all levels of management, from an enterprise to a state. It is necessary to promote the availability of these resources and expand their impact, as well as their effective use. Of course, we need to enhance vocational career guidance work with young people, to identify children's aptitudes and abilities early on, and to help them to find their vocation”, Galina Leonidova expressed her opinion.
What does “precarious employment” mean?
“Due to the changes in the sectoral structure of the world economy, increasing globalization, the introduction of the results of scientific and technological progress and other factors, the habitual employment model of the 20th century, based on open-ended employment contracts, full working hours and full social guarantees for employees, is now being abandoned. Such forms of employment as fixed-term employment, part-time work, contingent employment, freelancing, etc. are becoming more and more popular in modern society.
The socio-economic transformations of the 1990s changed the labor market in Russia significantly: there was a reduction in employment, an increase in open unemployment, a reduction of working hours, and a sharp drop in actual wages. The Law “On Employment in the Russian Federation,” adopted in 1991, actually proclaimed that the state abandoned total control in the sphere of labor. Some new labor market institutions began to take shape: minimum wages, unemployment benefits, labor exchanges, forced voluntary layoffs, etc. Such mechanisms as part-time work, forced leaves, back pays, informal (shadow) relations, payment-in-kind, etc. began to spread in the labor market during this period. These things allowed the Russian labor market to adapt to socio-economic realities and made it possible to avoid stronger shocks in case of significant changes in key macroeconomic indicators. The volume of non-standard labor relations has grown significantly since then. The negative practices of the use of adaptive mechanisms in social and labor relations persist to this day.
There is no single interpretation of the content of “precarious employment” concept, neither there is any established definition of it. Specialists and researchers use terms that denote a number of close, but not identical concepts, such as non-standard employment, precarious employment, informal employment, irregular employment, conditional employment, flexible employment, etc. In order to identify the criteria for attributing a form of employment to the above mentioned categories, many Russian researchers use the “reductio ad absurdum” method, for example, non-standard employment includes everything that does not belong to the standard one, which is defined by scientists V. E. Gimpelson and R. I. Kapeliushnikov as “full-time employment on the basis of a termless contract at an enterprise or organization under the direct management of the employer or a manager appointed by it.”
In the context of our study, we considered three objective signs of precarious employment:
1. The form of employment with signs of instability (any employment other than full-time employment at the main job). The analysis was carried out by means of the questionnaire; answers to the question, “Characterize your employment: I only have a regular job; I have a regular and an extra job; I combine a regular job with occasional part-time jobs; I do not have a regular job and only take occasional part-time jobs; I do not work.”
2. Lack of a written employment contract (answers to the question, “How is your employment relationship formalized at your regular job?”).
3. Lack of social guarantees for the employee (answers to the question, “What social guarantees are provided by the employer at your regular job?”).
The subjective sign has also been investigated:
4. The presence of fear of losing the job (answers to the question, “If you have a fear of losing your job, what is the main reason for it?”).
The hypothesis of the study was based on the assumption that a higher degree of precarious employment negatively affects the quality of labor potential and limits the possibility of its effective implementation. The novelty and originality of the approach involved analyzing precarious employment not only by the presence of its individual signs, but also by their total number, which determines the “depth” of involvement in precarious employment,” the researcher explained in detail.
Source: Vologda Oblast labor potential quality monitoring data, FSBSI VolRC RAS
Why is precarious employment becoming a serious barrier to the effective realization of labor potential?
“The conducted empirical analysis showed that employment instability negatively affects the satisfaction with working conditions, job and life satisfaction of modern employees. For almost all the indicators, those employees who have no signs of infringement of social and labor rights and who have at most one sign of unstable social and labor relations give a higher rating of their feelings about the workplace (working conditions – 3.67 points), about work in general (4 points out of 5) and about their life (3.8 points). Moreover, the average wages of such employees are higher. This established fact directly indicates that the presence of signs of unstable labor relations negatively affects the social well-being of employees, quality of living and working life of employees,” Galina Leonidova explained.
Why do you think the workplace is not perceived as a health risk factor either by employees or employers? How has the trend of personal health assessments changed in recent years?
“Analysis of the data of the long-term monitoring of the quality of labor potential (we have been conducting it for more than 20 years) showed that the trend of assessments of personal health has changed significantly over the research period. Up to 2004, the answers of the population of the region were dominated by satisfactory assessments, the total volume of which exceeded 50%. During this period, the structure of the answers to the question about assessing the health of Vologda residents also included negative characteristics: 7 to 11% of the respondents called their condition “bad and very bad.”
Since 2005 the assessment judgments of the Vologda Oblast residents have acquired a positive coloring. The assessment of health as “good and excellent” becomes the predominant answer – from 50 to 56% in different years. The share of “bad” assessments has decreased significantly – to 5–6%. The last measurement of 2020 showed a signal of a change in the positive trend – satisfactory self-assessment became predominant, and the share of low assessments increased to 8% again. Perhaps, it is related to the pandemic processes of last year (the survey was conducted in August–September).
Based on the above, it is quite understandable that most of the employees do not associate their health and disadvantages of the workplace in terms of protection / preservation of health. It became particularly evident when we conducted a survey of employees using the methodological toolkit of the staff of the Bashkir Affiliation of the FCTAS RAS, designed to assess the quality of employment of Russian employees in general: only a fifth of respondents said that “work has a negative impact on health (23%).” The majority responded that there was no such influence at all (41%), while 16% believed that work, on the contrary, stimulates the employee to stay healthy. When asked the next question, however, more than one-third of respondents said that in the past 12 months they had to endure an illness “on the run” due to the situation at work (36%), go to work until they recover completely (30%), and refuse to see a doctor because of a tight work schedule (21%). Basically, it proves the assumption of urgent attention that needs to be paid to the problem of workplaces and the health of employees.
In addition, the “health problems” factor is among the 10 most popular answers to the question about the reasons that prevent the maximum performance of an employee in labor activity. The relation of health and working conditions is demonstrated by the assessments of the working-age population, obtained within the framework of the monitoring of the quality of labor potential in the Vologda Oblast. The study shows that the higher the employees’ assessments of their health, the more they are satisfied with their working conditions. And vice versa. Among those who assess their health condition with satisfactory ratings, the share of those dissatisfied with labor conditions is significantly higher,” the scientist believes.
What did the subjective assessments of the working population regarding their quality of work life show: what factors do they think affect the quality of their working life?
“The study of subjective assessments of the QWL of the working population was carried out on the basis of the data of the sociological survey of the working-age population of the Vologda Oblast, conducted in 2018 (sample size – 1,500 people). The index approach was also used to analyze subjective assessments – private and composite index of satisfaction with QWL were calculated. The values of the indexes vary in the range from +2 to -2 (with zero neutral level). The average value (0) indicates the prevalence of neutral assessments of the entire quality of work life and/or its individual aspects among the working-age population of the region, i.e., the balance of the number of people satisfied and dissatisfied with them.
The composite index of subjective CTW of the able-bodied population of the Vologda Oblast was 0.254 points. This index value shows that more than half of the respondents are satisfied with the quality of work life. All partial indexes take positive values, which means that the working-age population of the Vologda Oblast is mostly satisfied with the components of the quality of work life that were included in the analysis. The highest values have private indexes of employment stability (0.927) and psychological climate in the organization (0.424). Private indexes of remuneration (0.111), career opportunities (0.129), and working conditions and organization (0.176) have the lowest values. Consequently, it can be assumed that there are problems in the organization of remuneration systems, problems of administrative interaction and poor working conditions at the enterprises of the Vologda Oblast.
The analysis of subjective evaluations of QWL has also shown that the highest estimates of satisfaction with QWL correspond to employment in state and municipal enterprises and in organizations with joint-stock ownership, work in accordance with aptitudes, abilities and vocation; high self-evaluations of financial situation and purchasing power. The gender and age specificity in subjective assessments of QWL has been determined; firstly, it includes high level of satisfaction with various aspects of labor among women as compared to men, secondly, there is a significant difference in subjective assessments of two social groups in such areas as labor conditions and organization, professional development and career advancement. It was possible to establish that the quality of labor potential and the level of implementation in labor activity of qualitative characteristics of employees are higher in those who have higher values of satisfaction indexes with QWL,” Galina Leonidova informed.
Did your research confirm a potential perception of an existing problem or did it introduce new information?
“We can say that the study confirmed the potential perception of existing problems concerning the quality of work life, but at the same time it contributed to the development of this issue. In particular, the new information concerns the determination of a clear relationship between the satisfaction with QWL and the qualitative characteristics of the employee himself, the level of his economic return and the quality of employment,” the scientist replied.
How do employees themselves and theorists of science understand a “healthy workplace”?
“The term ‘healthy workplace’ itself was initially interpreted by researchers as a physical environment. Then the concept was supplemented by social and psychological factors (work schedule, stress, deadlines, etc.), which can have a positive or negative impact on the employee's health. Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) have developed a definition of a healthy workplace as a place “in which workers and managers collaborate to use a continual improvement process to protect and promote the health, safety and well-being of all workers and the sustainability of the workplace by considering the following, based on identified needs: health and safety concerns in the physical work environment; health, safety and well-being concerns in the psychosocial work environment, including organization of work and workplace culture; personal health resources in the workplace; and ways of participating in the community to improve the health of workers, their families and other members of the community.” In other words, an employee health promotion is an important factor not only in ensuring their health, but in the social responsibility of business, too.
Unfortunately, we did not ask respondents what they understood by the term “healthy workplace.” However, due to the fact that many interviewees did not associate the two phenomena together, this question is worth asking,” Galina Leonidova commented.
At this stage of the research, how do you assess the level of quality of work life in the regional context of the country?
“As for this question, I can say that the study has not been completed and we have not assessed the QWL by the regions; this is a near-term task. We can get an approximate idea of the level of QWL in the regional context according to certain indicators, but the picture will not be complete. For example, there are Rosstat data on satisfaction with various aspects of labor. According to the federal statistical observation in 2018, almost 74%, on average in Russia, employed in the economy are quite satisfied with working conditions in enterprises; only 26 subjects of the Russian Federation have a level of satisfaction below 70%. The Vologda Oblast is among the outsiders (69th place out of 82), but the region's position on this aspect of the QWL is slightly better than on wages. In addition, the population of the Vologda Oblast is less satisfied with the psychological environment at work, which correlates with the estimated indicators of nervous tension and stress at work. Only 17% of Vologda residents do not experience such conditions, which corresponds to the 81st place in the rating of the Russian regions by this indicator. Therefore, the Vologda Oblast is among the top five regions with the worst indicators (assessments). In general, the Vologda Oblast occupies 69th place among the regions in terms of satisfaction with working conditions according to the assessment “quite satisfied with working conditions” – 66%,” Galina Leonidova summarized.
So, the data of the monitoring of the quality of labor potential of the Russians and the search for solutions to improve the quality of work life can be of practical importance for consideration when developing recommendations to improve the living standards of the working population and measures to protect health in the workplace, which should have a positive impact on the labor efficiency of employees and on the economy of the country in general.