What is a good job?

The Workers Lab & MIT Measuring Job Quality
The Workers Lab & MIT Measuring Job Quality

What makes a good job? Who measures job quality over time and holds employers accountable? How do we share models of high road employment with employers to demonstrate the economic value of creating good jobs? How are workers shaping our collective definition of a good job?

As our economy changes and new industries, sectors of employment, and employment relationships emerge, these questions become central to defining the future of our economy and of opportunity in our country.

This summer, The Workers Lab co-hosted a meeting with MIT’s Sloan School of Business and the Hitachi Foundation to explore how leaders in philanthropy, investment, government, and data analytics are measuring job quality. We were hoping to start a conversation to understand existing measures and how each of our institutions could apply them to have greater impact. It was a rich conversation that spanned the need to ensure that all workers had a voice in defining job quality and exploration of the multiple metrics already in place. Below are some of the lessons we learned from this conversation that we would like to share with you.


Understanding what to measure, how to measure it, and who has influence over measurement is key. We heard from people developing measurements who are using measurement to demonstrate social and economic value as well as from those using measurement as guides for private and public investment. Most notable of the presentations was B Lab’s GIIRS Rating system, which allows investors and business leaders to measure the impact of a business along social, environmental, and economic metrics, and to then benchmark these scores against previous measures. This system also provides guidance for how to improve one’s standing. Of the tools presented, GIIRS proved to be furthest along, having with the most users and the flexibility to be used as a tool for businesses as well as a guide for investors and grantmakers.


One of the most interesting parts of the conversation was sparked by a reflection from Fred Blackwell, CEO of the San Francisco Foundation. He suggested that the measurement conversation often missed the opportunity to understand the impact that companies that create good jobs have on specific cities and regions across the country. We agreed that the ability to understand how having an ecosystem of businesses that create quality jobs impacts everything from educational achievement, displacement, and generational opportunity pathways is a key and often missed measurement.


Throughout the conversation the importance of values over value emerged as a central theme. Early on, it was described as ‘the need to break out of the business case jail’ and understand that return or value is the lowest common measure of social, environmental, and economic impact. Instead, Travis McCready of The Boston Foundation invited us to commit to something larger — a set of values that ensured the well-being of our planet, protected our participation in shaping our democracy, and guaranteed generations to come a level of economic security that would allow us to collectively thrive.

We hope that this is the first of many conversations pushing us to collectively have rigor and clear definitions when discussion job quality.  At The Workers Lab, we are looking forward to ensuring that people who work have the power to set the terms of job quality.  We know that this is essential to a just economy, a safe environment, and an open democracy.