More jobs were lost than created across Europe in recent years, and although company restructuring, job losses and site closures caused significant industrial action, many countries still experienced little or no strike activity. The recession and its aftermath were particularly severe on young workers, who found that education no longer offers protection against unemployment. Eurofound’s third annual Yearbook on Living and Working in Europe shows trends in how Europe is developing, crucial for understanding the challenges it encounters. The yearbook highlights the content of Eurofound's findings while the related Annual activity report of the authorising officer 2011 covers the formal reporting on operations, staff and budget matters.
Jobs in 2011: better but not more
The 2008–2009 recession derailed employment growth in Europe, and 2011 brought few signs that progress was back on track. The recovery, such as it was, faltered as growth forecasts were revised downwards throughout the year, reflecting anxieties about the cohesion of the euro zone. Employment increased by just over one million from the ﬁrst quarter of 2010 to the ﬁrst quarter of 2011. However, the net result in the period from the ﬁrst quarter of 2008 until the ﬁrst quarter of 2011 was that over ﬁve and a half million jobs were lost , according to the European Labour Force Survey. By the end of 2011, the unemployment rate in the EU had reached 10%.
Eurofound’s research on employment trends showed that the lost jobs were mainly middle- and lower-paying jobs in construction, manufacturing and retail, while the new jobs were mostly higher-skilled and better-paying jobs in knowledge-intensive services. This suggests that, at present, Europe is creating proportionately more higher-value jobs, ‘better jobs’ (in terms of pay, at least) as envisaged by the Lisbon Strategy, but not creating sufficient jobs to absorb the huge numbers made jobless by the shake-out in traditional sectors.
Are good working conditions a luxury?
In a perfect world, all companies would strive for satisfied workers and stimulating jobs and would be rewarded with profits in abundance. In the real world, things are more complicated. Do we know for certain that companies that provide better-quality jobs – jobs that offer greater autonomy, better skills development, better opportunities to balance work and home life – fare better than companies that take a less enlightened approach?
Certain workplace practices, known as high-performance work practices (HPWPs), are thought to improve the performance of workers and the organisations they work for.
Eurofound undertook a study to discover whether evidence of such links could be found, selecting data from the ECS on a set of HPWPs related to training, pay, teamworking, flexible working time and social dialogue between employers and employees:
- Flexible working by more than one-fifth of staff was associated with reduced absenteeism and improved motivation. Just having a flexible working policy in place, however, had no effect on motivation and a negative effect on retention. Part-time working practices appear to have no benefits for performance;
- As for variable pay practices, only profit-sharing seems to be advantageous – links were found with reduced absenteeism and better motivation. Performance- related pay had either no or negative associations with absenteeism, motivation and staff retention, while share-ownership in any guise had minimal association;
- The presence of employee representation mechanisms and ad-hoc consultation mechanisms for the most part had a negative or no association with performance; the only positive association found was between employee representation and retention.
Hard times at the negotiating table
Eurofound maintains a network of observatories across Europe to provide reliable and up-to-date news and comparative information on industrial relations, working conditions, and drivers of change in the Member States, acceding and candidate countries, and Norway. EIRO reported that austerity drives left very little room for increases in government spending to deal with the fracturing of employment and labour markets caused by the crisis. Several governments had introduced measures during 2008–2009 aimed at preventing redundancies, getting unemployed people back into work, and supporting those who were out of work. These were extended in 2010 in Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway and Slovakia. Short-time working schemes, a key means of protecting workers from unemployment, while enabling employers to respond to reduced demand, were also extended in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Ireland, Luxembourg and Slovakia.
Looking at the state of industrial relations, the social partners at intersectoral level, in most countries, were involved to varying degrees in formulating measures to maintain employment, often through discussions in national tripartite and bipartite bodies.
Youth and age
Extending working life is widely seen as a means of halting the declining ratio of workers to retirees and of averting the predicted pensions crisis that threatens to drain both state finances and private pension funds. Achieving longer working lives demands an intergenerational approach that can get young workers off dole queues quickly (or helps them in joining the labour market in the first place), while developing sustainable careers that enable workers to stay in their jobs longer.
The European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations 2012 provides an opportunity to shine a spotlight on these issues. This review of Eurofound’s work in 2011, however, shows that in this arena, as in so many others, the economic crisis confounded policymakers’ best intentions. Youth unemployment soared, and employers reverted to early retirement as a means of reducing their workforces.
The quest for active, inclusive communities
Europe’s social policy agenda is wide – it includes reducing poverty, improving social protection, and combating discrimination – but its goal is, broadly, to improve the quality of life of people living in the EU.
The European Quality of Life Survey (EQLS) is Eurofound’s tool for monitoring quality of life in Europe. Questions in the EQLS on social relationships, participation and inclusion enable us to assess social cohesion in Europe.
In 2011 Eurofound conducted research projects using data from the 2007 survey to explore progress in building an active and inclusive society. One was a wide-ranging project on volunteering, a form of participation from which beneficiaries, actors and communities gain. A second project examined the quality of life of people living in neighbourhoods with high levels of ethnic diversity, a topic that is relevant in the context of increasing migration.