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Paid work

Desired outcomes

Everybody has 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. It provides people with incomes to meet their basic needs and to contribute to their material comfort, and it gives 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 from 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. Wage and salary income makes up around two-thirds of the total income received by New Zealanders aged 15 years and over.57 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 it should 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 to match 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, identifying themselves and others through 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.58

The quality of work is critically important. 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 to or need to. The desired outcomes acknowledge that wellbeing is best served by maintaining a balance between paid work and other aspects of life including spending time with family and friends, taking part in leisure and recreational activities, and doing unpaid work such as housework and voluntary work. Where that balance lies will differ from person to person.


Five indicators are used in this chapter. They are: the unemployment rate, the employment rate, median hourly earnings, work-related injury claims and satisfaction with work-life balance.

The unemployment rate – unemployed persons as a proportion of the labour force – is the official measure reported by Statistics New Zealand (averaged for December years). To be counted as unemployed, a person must not only be out of work, they must also be available for work in the next four weeks and have actively sought work in the past four weeks. This accords closely with the OECD standard measure, allowing international comparisons. Information about long-term unemployment is also provided.

The second indicator, the employment rate, complements the unemployment rate indicator by measuring actual engagement in work among the population aged 15–64 years. Full-time and part-time employment rates are included.

Both the unemployment and the employment rates are affected by several factors, including economic conditions and the availability of work, migration flows, people’s qualifications and abilities, family responsibilities, and personal decisions.

The third indicator is median hourly earnings from waged and salaried employment. The level of financial return from paid employment, independent of the number of hours worked, is a key determinant of the standard of living that people can attain.

The fourth indicator is the rate of work-related 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 their physical or mental wellbeing.

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