Applications of the capability achieve valuable work

van der Klink, Jac (2018). 'Applications of the Capability achieve valuable work' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


The centrality of work in people’s lives has changed considerably with the transition from industrial to post-industrial labour (European Foundation, 2007).For the present day worker the value of work is considered to be an important aspect of their Quality of Working Life (Jahoda, 1982; Gheaus, 2016) and sustainable employability (Van der Klink, 2016).

The challenge in work places is to identify what important values are and how people are able and enabled to achieve these values.

The capability model is a model that is value-driven and gives the possibility to identify important values in work (Van der Klink, 2016; Abma, 2016) and to analyze how people are enabled and able to achieve these values.

The capability approach (CA), developed by Nobel prize laureate Amartya Sen, is an ethical framework that states that social justice should focus on supporting the capabilities of all individuals to conceive, pursue, and revise their life plans. (Sen, 1999; Venkatapuram, 2011). The CA looks for what is valuable for and valued by people, and how these values can be achieved in life. The approach states explicitly that it is the shared responsibility of the individual and the social context to build up and facilitate the capability set and to achieve and enable a valuable life. Capabilities are the opportunities for fulfilling achievements / ‘functionings’ or ‘beings and doings people have reason to value’ (Sen, 1992).

In the CA resources (‘means to achieve’ such as income and wealth but also a health condition or labour conditions), only have meaning because of what individuals can be and do through using and ‘converting’ such ‘means’ into outcomes. Thus, instead of focusing exclusively on the means or instrumental value of goods the CA advocates a focus on what we really value and care about. It should be on what individuals are practically able and enabled to be and do — i.e. what ‘achievements’ they can attain.

Van der Klink et al. (2016) have recently proposed a set of work values based on interviews with workers in the Dutch labour force. This ‘capability set for work’ consists of seven non-hierarchical work capabilities: using knowledge and skills, applying knowledge and skills, involvement in important decisions, meaningful contacts at work, setting own goals, having a good income and contributing to something valuable (Abma et al. 2016). A work capability is present if an employee a) values the aspect in her work, b) she is enabled by contextual factors to achieve this valued work aspect and c) she is able to achieve these valued work aspects herself. This triptych of questions respectively relates to elements of the capability model a) identification of relevant capabilities of the employee b) work conversion factors (i.e. factors in the work place that enable people to convert resources (means to achieve) into capabilities (freedoms to achieve) and functionings (achievements) and c) personal conversion factors. The ‘capability set for work’ has the aim to detect deprivation of work capabilities in the population of Dutch employees. However, the capability set may also be applied to identify work and personal conversion factors. The model and the instrument generated a lot of research. An ‘author meets critics session’ has been submitted that gives a broad overview of that research.

Abma, F.I., Brouwer, S., de Vries, H.J., Arends, I., Robroek, S.J., Cuijpers, M., van der Wilt, G.J., Bültmann, U. & van der Klink, J.J. (2016). The capability set for work: development and validation of a new questionnaire. Scandinavian Journal of Work Environment & Health, 42(1), 34-42

European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound). Fourth European Working Condition Surveys [Internet] Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities; 2007 [cited 2014 Jan 7]. Available from:

Gheaus, A., & Herzog, L. (2016). The goods of work (other than money!). Journal of Social Philosophy, 47(1), 70 – 89. doi:10.1111/josp.12140

Jahoda M. Employment and Unemployment: A Social-psychological Analysis. London, Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Sen AK. Inequality reexamined. New York Oxford New York: Russell Sage Foundation, Clarendon Press, Oxford Univ. Press,1992.

Sen AK. Development as Freedom, New York: Knopf, 1999.

Van der Klink, J.J., Bültmann, U., Burdorf, A., Schaufeli, W.B., Zijlstra, F.R.H., Abma, F.I., Brouwer, S., van der Wilt, G.J. (2016). Sustainable employability-definition, conceptualization, and implications: A perspective based on the capability approach. Scandinavian journal of work, environment & health, 42(1), 71.
Venkatapuram S. Health Justice: An argument from the capabilities approach. Cambridge: Polity Press; 2011

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