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Regional Comparison

The Big Cities Project


Paid Work:

Paid Work

Desired Outcomes

All people have access to meaningful, rewarding and safe employment. An appropriate balance is maintained between paid work and other aspects of life.


Paid work has an important role in social wellbeing by providing people with incomes to meet their basic needs and to contribute to their material comfort, as well as by giving them options for how they live their lives. Paid work is also important for the social contact and sense of self-worth or satisfaction it can give people.

The desired outcomes highlight four aspects of paid work: access to work, the financial return of work, the safety of the working environment and the balance between work and other areas of life.

For most people, income from paid work is the main factor determining their material standard of living. On average, about two-thirds of total household income is derived directly from labour market income, and the figure is substantially greater for most households.47 Income saved during their working life contributes to the standard of living of many retired people.

The social and personal dimensions of paid work are both important. Ideally, work should not only be materially rewarding but contribute to other aspects of wellbeing. Meeting challenges at work can contribute to a sense of satisfaction and self-worth. Paid work is more likely to be satisfying where people can find employment which matches their skills and abilities.

Social contact is an important part of wellbeing. For many people, much of their social contact is through their jobs. People often gain a sense of belonging or identity from their jobs, recognising themselves and others because of the organisation they work for or the type of work they do.

Conversely, unemployment can isolate people from society and cause them to lose self-confidence. Unemployment is associated with poorer mental and physical health, and lower levels of satisfaction with life.48

The quality of work is of critical importance. A meaningful job can enhance people’s satisfaction with their work. An unsafe job, on the other hand, places people’s wellbeing at risk.

Work can also be stressful. People may be required to work longer hours than they want or need to. The desired outcomes acknowledge that wellbeing is best served by maintaining a balance between paid work and other aspects of life, though where that balance lies will differ from person to person.


Five indicators are used in this chapter. They are: unemployment, employment, median hourly earnings from all wages and salaries, the number of workplace injury claims and the proportion of the population in paid employment who are satisfied with their work-life balance.

Together, these indicators present a picture of people’s access to employment, how financially rewarding employment is, the level of safety of employment and the balance between work and other areas of life.

The first two indicators relate to the quantity of paid work on offer and taken up. This is affected by several factors, including economic conditions, migration flows, people’s qualifications and abilities, and their decisions on how much time to allocate to paid work.

The first indicator is the unemployment rate. The unemployment rate measures the proportion of people who are out of work and who are actively seeking and available to take up paid work. This is a relatively narrow measure of unemployment but it accords closely with the OECD standard measure, allowing international comparisons. Information about long-term unemployment is also provided.

The second indicator is the employment rate. The employment rate provides an alternative picture of people’s access to paid work, as it is influenced not only by the amount of work available but also by trends in labour force participation. The indicator measures the proportion of working-age people employed for one hour or more a week. Information is provided on the breakdown between full-time and part-time employment. The employment rate complements the unemployment rate as an indicator. Changes in the employment rate will reflect changes in the number of discouraged workers who are not employed, but are not actively seeking work.

The third indicator measures median hourly earnings from waged and salaried employment. The level of financial return from paid employment independent of the number of hours worked is central to the quality of paid work.

The fourth indicator is the rate of workplace injury claims per 1,000 full-time equivalent employees. Workplace safety is important in its own right, but may also be a proxy for the quality of employment. Jobs should not pose an unreasonable risk to people’s lives or physical wellbeing.

The final indicator measures the proportion of the population in paid employment who are satisfied with their work-life balance.