Mount Allison professor researches how job quality influences innovation

14 Dec 2017

Rachelle_mainDr. Rachelle Pascoe-Deslauriers’ research explores how businesses can design their organizations to encourage innovation. Pascoe-Deslauriers, an assistant professor in commerce and women’s and gender studies, has found innovation is fundamentally connected to the quality and types of jobs.

What makes a good quality job?

“Job quality is multi-faceted and includes the nature of the work, whether you get to use your skills, how much autonomy you have, physical working conditions, and opportunities for development,” explains Pascoe-Deslauriers. “It also includes factors like pay, job security, hours of work, and benefits. Finally, there are workplace factors such as whether the employee feels fairly treated and trusts the organization.”

For the past three years Pascoe-Deslauriers has been working as part of a research team in the Scottish Centre for Employment Research (SCER) at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland on workplace innovation and fair work. Their work has been supported by the Scottish government and the Scottish public enterprise and skills agencies.

When asked what employers can do to support innovation, Pascoe-Deslauriers explains there is no ‘one-size fits all.’ Processes that decentralize decision-making, enable people to fully use their skills at work, and have opportunities for learning and problem-solving beyond their daily tasks are important.

But crucially, she says, we also need to think about aspects like job security, decent pay, and working conditions. When employees have a genuine stake in the business and its future, and they feel valued, secure, well-treated, and have opportunities to be involved, they are more motivated to participate in innovation.

“After all, if you don’t know if you are going to have a job next week, you probably don’t have a lot of drive to share your brilliant idea. Incentives matter and opportunities for meaningful involvement matter too,” she says.

Pascoe-Deslauriers suggests that businesses can make choices about how they conduct their business and do so in ways that can benefit the business and workers. In one farming company they researched, the main produce required experienced workers who were able to handle technically-complex, fast-paced work. The company looked for ways to manage the seasonal nature of the work against the challenges of recruiting experienced staff each year. The solution was a labour agency, working with other local employers who could employ their workers in the off season.

Pascoe-Deslauriers and the team at SCER have worked with more than 40 businesses and organizations in Scotland on these issues. The companies included those in legal and financial services, waste management, digital and creative industries, health and social care organizations, and food and drink manufacturers.

“Employees can have lots of ideas about their work,” she says, “but in our research many employees and managers tell us that employees are stressed out, they don’t have enough time to reflect on their work, and that employees don’t have enough autonomy to make changes to how they do their work.”

These findings raise important questions about how the design of jobs might inadvertently limit and deter innovation.

“Of course, redesigning work and challenging business environments isn’t easy, but it is people who innovate, so business innovation is inextricably linked to people,” she says.

Pascoe-Deslauriers is now focusing on issues of quality jobs and innovation in the Maritimes with plans for international comparisons with Scotland.

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