“sustainable employability at work” – quality of working life based on the capability approach.

van der Klink, Jac (2018). '“Sustainable employability at work” – Quality of Working Life based on the Capability Approach.' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


In 2012 the Netherlands’ Organization for Health Research and Development (ZonMw) commissioned a consortium of five Dutch research institutes to develop a definition and model of sustainable employability and an associated assessment instrument. The consortium chose to base the model of sustainable employability on the capability concept, as developed by Amartya Sen, and consequently conducted various research projects.  The initial project operated from2012 to 2016, with a budget of € 510,000 and resulted in seven publications so far.  A number of projects have grown out of the initial project.  Jac van der Klink, the initiator and one of the Pis in the consortium will present the project and research findings.  The two responders will be Sridhar Venkatapuram and Sophie Mitra, both experts in health, disability, ageing, and the capabilities approach. 

The presentation will include description of the research aims of the consortium and the research outputs of one consortium partner/ PI. 

The overall objective was to enable workers to achieve important values in their working life,  based on the research finding that for present day workers the value of work is a central aspect of their Quality of Working Life. Prevailing models lack an emphasis on these work-related values. The capability model can serve to identify important values and to analyze how people are enabled and able to achieve these values.

In 2016 the consortium of researchers published two articles (Van der Klink, 2016; Abma, 2016); in the first article a new model of quality of working life based on the capability approach was proposed, placing particular emphasis on work-related values. In the second article the development of a questionnaire based interviews, literature study, and an expert meeting to measure work capabilities was presented. In a large survey, the validity was evaluated by means of hypotheses testing.

By consulting the target group of workers we identified seven work values: (i) the use of knowledge and skills, (ii) the development of knowledge and skills; (iii) involvement in important decisions; (iv) building and maintaining meaningful contacts at work; (v) setting own goals; (vi) having a good income; and (vii) contributing to something valuable.

In our assessment, we we ask at each of the seven values: (i) “How important is for you?”, (ii) “Does your work offer you the opportunities to achieve ?” (iii) “To what extent do you actually achieve ?”. A value is part of a worker’s capability set, when that value is scored as relevant, as enabled in work, and as achievable on the personal level. The capability set was significantly correlated with relevant work and health outcomes.

This capability set for work has generated much research among groups: workers with Multiple Sclerosis, developmental dyslexia, autism, spinal cord injury (in Indonesia), women with disability in Ethiopia. (A theme panel with three studies has been submitted )


There are many applications in practice too. The structure of the assessment enables researchers and practitioners to identify important values and factors facilitating or hindering the achievement of those values.

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