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Quality in work and employment — Denmark

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Quality of work and employment is back at the top of the European employment and social policy agenda. At the first Informal meeting of Ministers for Employment and Social Affairs held under the German Presidency on 18/20 January 2007 in Berlin, agreement was reached on a set of policy principles covering what the Presidency termed ‘good work’ – a new EU terminology following on from the ILO use of ‘decent work, and the more established EU mantra of ‘more and better jobs’.This is the contribution of Denmark.

1. The importance of quality in work and employment

Is the overall issue of quality in work and employment (or any analogous concept) seen to be important by politicians, trade unions, employers, press, and other interest groups? Is the issue growing in importance?

This question could have both “yes” and “no” as an answer. A concept of job quality resembling the one outlined in this questionnaire or at the EWCO website has not entered the national debate, and, to the best of our knowledge, has not been applied in any research projects on work-life. On the other hand, we find the issue of quality in work and employment in a broader sense to be still more prevalent among all interested parties, as well as a tradition for thematizing the quality of work dating back to the mid-1960s. It is our estimate, that when “job quality” has not entered debate and research, it is mainly due to the long tradition for assessing quality in work and employment by somewhat different categories and the fact that the issue is already (but sometimes only partially) covered by these different categories. Below, different concepts somewhat similar to “job quality” prevalent in the Danish national context are described:

  • In Danish research, the concept of “trivsel”, which is best translated into “well being” in a broad sense of the word, has a long tradition. The application of this concept was originally based on human relations theory, and developed methodologically by Eggert Petersen in 1968. Today, investigations of employee ”trivsel” remain widespread and are offered by a vast number of private consultancy enterprises and the work environment system, even though the concept is increasingly being superseded by the focus on psychosocial work environment.

  • On the basis of the concept of “det gode arbejde” (the good job) developed by Swedish work-life researchers around 1990, the concept of “Det Udviklende Arbejde” (developmental work) was developed by researchers in collaboration with the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO). The concept, which can be regarded of an elaboration of the “trivsel” concept adding personal and professional development, attracted much attention in the 1990ies. However, the concept of developmental work is now being abandoned by the LO in favour of a concept for “Den Bæredygtige Arbejdsplads” (the sustainable workplace) integrating social and environmental sustainability in a single concept. This approach, however, has not created much debate.

  • In 2005 the Working Environment Authority launched the project “Bedre arbejde” (better work) as a catalogue for inspiration in improving the psychosocial work environment and reduce sickness absence at the enterprises. The project draws on the experiences from 20 development cases having the involvement of employees as the common feature in improving the psychosocial work environment and reducing sickness absence.

  • In the national survey on psychosocial work environment, the National Research Centre for the Working Environment operates with a concept of “six pearls” (“de seks guldkorn”) as revealing the quality of the psychosocial work environment. The six items are: control, meaning, predictability, social support, rewards and demands. These six are further broken down into sub-concepts. With this instrument a total score for different occupational groups are calculated, enabling a ranking and identification of the groups most at risk in the labour market.

Is there concern about a possible conflict between job creation and the pursuit of quality in work, or are the two aspects seen to be complementary?

For the time being, such concerns are not a major topic, as attention seems to be directed most at the labour shortages appearing, especially in sectors such as construction and health service. In other words, there is more of a concern about procuring the labour demanded by employers, than a focus on quality when speaking of job creation. However, the United Federation of Danish Workers (3F) is trying to raise a debate on the often poor working and employment conditions offered workers from Eastern European countries compared to Danish workers. This concern is increasingly relevant as the number of workers from Eastern European countries has been rising rapidly since the inclusion of the new EU member states (see table below). As to Danish nationals there seems to be some consensus that the creation of new jobs, as more manual work is being relocated to low wage countries, will generally increase the overall quality in work and employment.

Table 1 Active work permits to individuals from new EU member states
Table Layout
2004q2 2004q3 2004q4 2005q1 2005q2 2005q3 2005q4 2006q1 2006q2 2006q3 2006q4
519 1,450 1,764 2,002 3,882 5,061 4,664 4,690 7,180 9,194 9,730

Source: National Labour Market Authority (AMS) databank, at (in Danish).

Is the national debate being influenced by policy discussions and developments at EU level?Are any particular aspects of job quality (as listed above) seen as especially important?Have any major initiatives been taken by any of the interested parties, either separately or together, with respect to quality in work and employment?

Below, the most recent initiatives with regard to the quality in work and employment are listed and described in brief:

  • In the major “Agreement on future wealth and welfare and investments in the future” (Aftale om fremtidens velstand og velfærd og investeringer i fremtiden – velfærdsreformen) – henceforth the welfare reform agreement – passed by Parliament in June 2006, it was decided to establish a fund for the prevention negative health outcomes of work on workers, as the effective retirement age was raised from 65 to 67 years of age (will be phased from 2024 to 2027). Thus, the reform will affect every individual 48 years of age or less at the end of 2006.

  • In March 2006 the tripartite committee on “lifelong qualifications development and education for all labour market participants” published a report containing a joint recommendation to strengthen activities and programmes in the field of adult and supplementary training and proposals of different models of financing. The committee recommended a strengthening of measures in relation to the most disadvantaged groups on the labour market, including people with inadequate literacy and/or numeracy skills.

  • In December 2005 a Family- and work-life commission (Familie- og arbejdslivskommissionen) was set up by the Ministry of Family and Consumer Affairs. It is the purpose of the commission to map and analyse the demands of families regarding work-life and to produce knowledge on how to strike a balance in modern work-life.

  • In mid-2005 the Work Environment Council recommended the Ministry of Employment to prioritise and target accidents, psychosocial work environment, musculoskeletal disorders and noise in the efforts to secure the health and safety of workers. This prioritisation was based on the report “Fremtidens arbejdsmiljø” (Working environment of the future) published by the Working environment Authority (presented in Outlook for occupational risk trends), and subsequently, the Ministry of Employment has approved this prioritization.

2. Career and employment security

In the Danish national context the concept of flexicurity is more of a descriptive term applied by researchers, politicians and the social partners, than a concept describing specific labour market and social policy actions. As the labour market feature of a co-existence of numerical flexibility for employers and social security for employees is deeply rooted in the formalised bargaining of the social partners, going back as far as September 1899, the Danish labour market might be said to have been characterised by “flexicurity” in the 1970s and 1980s as well as more recently. Regarding the history of the Danish flexicurity, most labour market researchers agree that the ‘Danish model’ of flexicurity should be perceived as an example for inspiration rather than a labour market system to be replicated. Nevertheless, the concept has been developed around the turn of the century in researchers’ efforts to describe the effects of a more active labour market policy initiated in 1994. More recently, the concept was adopted by politicians and the social partners in labelling the success of joint achievements and in promoting the Danish model at European level. In this sense flexicurity is the actually existing “state of affairs” rather than a policy goal to be achieved and is not contested by the social partners.

In such discussions, is the nature of the employment contract - notably between permanent full-time job contracts, and those that are not – a central issue?

To our knowledge, no research exists claiming a link between a rise in atypical, temporary, part time etc. contracts and the flexicurity model. Much rather, the flexibility of the Danish labour market appear as mitigating sharp increases in atypical forms of employment: since it is relatively easy for employers to hire and fire employees, they do not have to rely on alternative arrangements in order to achieve flexibility. In fact, the much-debated Act on part time work (Deltidsloven), passed by parliament in 2002, was put forth by the present government with a reference to the need of guaranteeing employees the option of working part time, and, thus, did not aim at providing employers more flexibility.

  • Are there other concerns in such debates – such as appropriate levels of unemployment compensation, or the need to link flexibility and security with increased investment in human resources in order to cope with structural change?

In the Danish context of an increasing labour shortage, the debate on unemployment compensation does not centre on whether the compensation is appropriate, but more on whether compensations are at a level discouraging the incentive to work. This, however, is an issue that is much disputed.

In the face of globalisation and increased international competition, there is a general acceptance of the need to improve on the educational system at all levels to ensure a more educated workforce for the future. This awareness has resulted in the already mentioned tripartite committee’s plan for adult and supplementary education. Improvements and reforms in education and training programmes has also been a strong focus in the work of the Globalisation Council set up by government in April 2005.

3. Health and well being

It is safe to say that there is quite a lot of awareness of the effect of newer developments on work-life:

  • With the aim to prioritise the efforts for the period 2005-2010 the Working Environment Authority assessed the likely occupational risk trends in the project “Fremtidens arbejdsmiljø” (Work environment of the future). Employers and trade unions represented in the Work Environment Council jointly prioritised the content of the report, and, thus, co-decided the work environment policy (as referred to under the first section of this questionnaire).

  • The Danish Confederation of Trade unions (LO) published a series of reports concerning the labour market of the future in 2004.

  • Atypical employment was assessed around the turn of the century in various publications.

  • The national working conditions survey, DWECS, has been supplemented with questions on work-life balance for the 2005 wave of the survey, and the national survey on psychosocial work environment performed by the National Research Centre for the Working Environment has been supplemented with new questions in 2005. In addition, research projects on burnout, harassment, limitless work etc. has been conducted in the recent years.

  • Among trade unions, the Confederation of Salaried Employees and Civil Servants (FTF) publishes reports on themes like stress, harassment, the “whole life” and Union of Commercial and Clerical Employees (HK) has insisted on the negative health outcomes from the repetitive work operations in working with computers. As to the latter, injuries from working intensively with a computer mouse was first legally recognised by the National Board of Industrial Injuries in late September 2006.

In the Work Environment Research Fund (Arbejdsmiljøforskningsfonden) decisions on the funding of research are taken. Recently, fields of work-life research not very developed yet were mapped. This, most likely will result in the funding of research projects of the sort mentioned in the above question.

  • How far is the health of older workers seen to be an issue in relation to the debate about increasing the effective retirement age?

This is an issue to some degree. In the recent welfare reform it was decided to increase the retirement age from 65 to 67 years of age. This is in general viewed as a necessary precondition for maintaining a high level of public services as the average age of the population increases. The need of increasing the effective retirement age was explained by politicians by the assumed increase in life expectancy for the population as a whole, and not on the actual health of older workers. On the other hand, the increased retirement age was accompanied by the establishment of a “prevention fund” for the prevention of negative work-related health outcomes, as well as the Work Environment Authority received additional funds for more thorough inspection in sectors and enterprises with a high prevalence of negative health outcomes.

  • To what extent is there recognition that men and women may often suffer from somewhat different work-related health problems?

It is generally accepted that gender plays a role in health outcomes. Statistics from the Working Environment Authority (WEA) and the National Board of Industrial Injuries (NBII) are always broken down by gender, unless there are specific reasons not to include gender. The statistics published by the WEA and the NBII reveal that gender differences do exist. For example, men have almost twice the risk of experiencing occupational accidents, whereas women are approximately three times as likely to report work-related psychosocial disorders. In addition, women are more at risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders than men are. Data from the DWECS are also usually presented by gender. In addition, recent investigations on different work environment factors’ contribution to sickness absence undertaken by National Research Centre for the Working Envrionment investigated the influence of different risk factors specific to gender.

4. Skills development

With global economic integration, the EU’s comparative economic advantage is shifting towards sectors and activities that use more non-manual skills – not only in performing intellectual or creative tasks, but in handling inter-personal relations and contacts.

Has the need for life-long learning in order to cope with continuous structural change been accepted by the government, social partners and the public at large?

Life-long learning has been on the agenda for quite a while, and the need of higher levels of education in the future is not contested by any of the involved partners. A major result of this unanimity was achieved in February 2006, when the tripartite committee (mentioned in the first section) agreed on a plan for supplementary education. However, the financing of the educational activities has not been settled yet.

To what extent have specific actions been developed to help those most at risk of being left behind – notably workers in areas dominated by traditional industries and agriculture?

Generally, actions are not developed aiming specifically at those most at risk. In case of unemployment, the need of further training and education is assessed individually. This is a part of the active labour market policy mentioned under the Career and employment security section. One exception, however, is the case of immigrants and the children of immigrants. Special measures have been taken to improve labour market integration of these workers.

One further note should be made on employees usually being perceived of as at risk of being left behind: the unskilled workers. The fact that jobs in the manufacturing industries are increasingly being relocated to low-wage countries has caused some concern among politicians and in the public. However, the risk of ‘being left behind’ is apparently mitigated by the fact that many unskilled or semi-skilled workers employed in traditional industries have actually received substantial further education. Moreover, education has been introduced into jobs which traditionally did not require a skilled workforce. This especially seems to count for former unskilled service occupations, such as cleaning, heavy truck and lorry drivers, health and social assistants, meaning that the unskilled part of the workforce is declining.

To what extent are employers, trade unions and government working together – at policy or company level - to address these or related concerns, such as the better integration of young workers, or the retention of older workers?

There is great political concern on the early retirement of senior employees. This concern mostly evolves around the increasing life expectancy and the ageing of the Danish national population. This means that in the future more people will be entitled to retirement pension, and that they will be so for relatively more years, and that there will be fewer economically active people to support each pensioner. As a part of the aforementioned welfare reform, the early retirement scheme (Efterløn) was altered in order to keep senior employees at work longer. In addition, research has been conducted looking into the relation between work environment factors and the decision to retire, as well as a policy programme to prevent employees from going into early retirement has been launched by the Ministry of Employment.

5. Work life balance

Maintaining a balance between working life and life outside of work is a growing challenge for individuals, and especially for those with families.

  • How far is this being achieved successfully in practice in your Member State?

Work-life balance is increasingly on the agenda in Denmark. However, recent studies on work-life balance show more positive results than anticipated. The national working conditions survey, the Danish Work Environment Cohort Study 2005, has revealed that employees perceive the work-life balance as better in 2005 than in 2000. Moreover, a comprehensive survey on work-life balance – conducted by the Danish National Institute of Social Research – showed that around 80% of Danish families are satisfied with their work-life balance. In the Danish context the issue of work-life balance seems to revolve especially around families with children. This reflects the fact that the employment participation rate for women is almost as high as for men. A prerequisite for the dual-earner couples is the childcare arrangements already in place – the vast majority of children attend childcare services in some form. However, the past years have showed some changes favouring the working families: In 2002 the Act on part time was introduced, making it possible for an employee and an employer to agree on part time employment regardless of the provisions of the collective agreement in force. In 2002 also, parental leave was extended to 52 weeks. Nevertheless, results from the national survey on psychosocial work environment revealed employees’ difficulties in balancing work and family life. The awareness of this problem led to the appointment of a Family- and work-life commission (Famile- og arbejdslivskommisionen), under the Ministry of Family and Consumer Affairs, in December 2005. The purpose of the commission is to map and analyse the demands of families regarding work-life and to produce further knowledge on how to strike a balance in modern work-life.

  • In so far as new working time arrangements are being developed, are the initiatives coming from employers, or from joint initiatives with their employees and/or trade unions?

In general, the social partners bargain on working time arrangements. In most instances, the initiatives to flexibilise working time arrangements originate from employers. However, the labour market bargaining processes influences results. This often ensures employees positive outcomes as well as flexible working time often entail a higher level of control for the employee. On this background, flexible working time arrangements often hold an opportunity for the employee to balance work and life outside work. In this regard men might be somewhat better off than women, as more male employees have access to the potential benefits of flexible working time arrangements. Despite the fact that women make up around half of the active workforce, the female share of ‘working from home’ fluctuates between 37%-and 38% for the period 2000-2005 (see Table 2). Please note, however, that these conclusions rely on the assumption, as made by Statistics Denmark (Andersen et al., 2004), that the incidence of working from home provides an indication of the prevalence of flexible working time arrangements

Table 2 Working from home by gender, LFS 2000-2005 (in thousands)
Table Layout
Gender/Frequency 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
Yes 343 340 338 367 405 387
- Usually 61 55 52 62 69 64
- Sometimes 282 285 286 305 336 323
No 1,109 1,109 1,103 1,073 1,040 1,065
Yes 220 221 223 234 263 266
- Usually 66 54 51 54 53 65
- Sometimes 154 167 172 180 210 201
No 1,041 1,045 1,040 1,008 1,003 1,010

Source: StatBank Denmark, 2006.

  • Long, or ‘unsocial’ working hours can be a particular cause for concern, whatever the intrinsic quality of the job or the pay being received. Likewise, reasonable proximity to one’s place of work will limit the amount of time lost in travel. How do these issues rank as concerns with the public and workforce?

Long hours clearly rank as a concern among work environment professionals and to some extent with the public at large. Research from the National Research Centre for the Working Environment show that long hours and long work weeks are quite common among Danish employees. Especially managers, independents, professionals and lorry truck drivers are occupational categories exposed to long hours. Except from private day-care, it is mainly male employees who tend to work long hours.

There is not much debate on the prevalence of “unsocial” hours. Nevertheless, it remains to be prevalent, and maybe even on the rise as a result of the shift towards more service occupations, primarily among the lower skilled part of the workforce.

Annex – Country data

Place of work and work organisation EU27 DK
q11f. Working at company/organisation premises 72.8 87.1
q11g. Teleworking from home 8.3 16.0
q11j. Dealing directly with people who are not employees (e.g. customers) 62.4 72.0
q11k. Working with computers 45.5 62.3
q11l. Using internet/email for work 36.0 54.3
q20a_a. Short repetitive tasks of <1m 24.7 27.4
q20a_b. Short repetitive tasks of <10m 39.0 46.9
q20b_a. Working at very high speed 59.6 75.5
q20b_b. Working to tight deadlines 61.8 68.8
q21a. Pace of work dependent on colleagues 42.2 49.4
q21b. Pace of work dependent on direct demands from customers, etc. 68.0 73.0
q21c. Pace of work dependent on numerical production/performance targets 42.1 32.0
q21d. Pace of work dependent on automated equipment/machine 18.8 14.6
q21e. Pace of work dependent on boss 35.7 19.8
q22a. Have to interrupt a task in order to take on an unforeseen task 32.7 50.3
q24a. Can choose/change order of tasks 63.4 84.8
q24b. Can choose/change methods of work 66.9 80.7
q24c. Can choose/change speed of work 69.2 81.2
q25a. Can get assistance from colleagues if asked 67.6 87.4
q25b. Can get assistance from superiors/boss if asked 56.1 77.2
q25c. Can get external assistance if asked 31.6 55.9
q25d. Has influence over choice of working partners 24.2 36.4
q25e. Can take break when wishes 44.6 57.7
q25f. Has enough time to get the job done 69.6 67.6
q26a. Task rotation 43.7 68.2
q26b. Teamwork 55.2 57.7
q31. Immediate boss is a woman 24.5 29.3
Job content and training    
q23a. Meeting precise quality standards 74.2 79.4
q23b. Assessing quality of own work 71.8 88.7
q23c. Solving unforeseen problems 80.8 93.2
q23d. Monotonous tasks 42.9 43.8
q23e. Complex tasks 59.4 74.6
q23f. Learning new things 69.1 86.4
q25j. Able to apply own ideas in work 58.4 72.0
q27. Job-skills match: need more training 13.1 13.8
q27. Job-skills match: correspond well 52.3 52.9
q27. Job-skills match: could cope with more demanding duties 34.6 33.3
q28a1. Has undergone paid-for training in previous 12 months 26.1 36.3
Violence, harrassment and discrimination    
q29a. Threats of physical violence 6.0 5.0
q29b. Physical violence from colleagues 1.8 3.1
q29c. Physical violence from other people 4.3 2.4
q29d. Bullying/harassment 5.1 7.3
q29f. Unwanted sexual attention 1.8 2.8
q29g. Age discrimination 2.7 2.0
Physical work factors    
q10a. Vibrations 24.2 16.8
q10b. Noise 30.1 30.0
q10c. High temperatures 24.9 20.5
q10d. Low temperatures 22.0 19.9
q10e. Breathing in smoke, fumes, powder or dust, etc. 19.1 13.2
q10f. Breathing in vapours such as solvents and thinners 11.2 4.5
q10g. Handling chemical substances 14.5 10.2
q10h. Radiation 4.6 3.6
q10i. Tobacco smoke from other people 20.1 27.5
q10j. Infectious materials 9.2 9.1
q11a. Tiring or painful positions 45.5 33.5
q11b. Lifting or moving people 8.1 6.0
q11c. Carrying or moving heavy loads 35.0 29.8
q11d. Standing or walking 72.9 73.5
q11e. Repetitive hand or arm movements 62.3 61.2
q11m. Wearing personal protective clothing or equipment 34.0 25.9
Information and communication    
q30b. Consulted about changes in work organisation, etc. 47.1 53.6
q30c. Subject to regular formal assessment of performance 40.0 32.2
q12. Well-informed about health and safety risks 83.1 83.5
q32. Consider health or safety at risk because of work 28.6 23.2
q33. Work affects health 35.4 44.2
q33a_a… hearing problems 7.2 6.1
q33a_b... problems with vision 7.8 2.1
q33a_c... skin problems 6.6 5.9
q33a_d… backache 24.7 23.1
q33a_e… headaches 15.5 15.9
q33a_f… stomach ache 5.8 5.3
q33a_g… muscular pains 22.8 30.0
q33a_h… respiratory difficulties 4.7 2.5
q33a_i… heart disease 2.4 0.8
q33a_j...injury(ies) 9.7 6.3
q33a_k...stress 22.3 26.7
q33a_l...overall fatigue 22.5 16.8
q33a_m...sleeping problems 8.7 9.6
q33a_n...allergies 4.0 3.1
q33a_o...anxiety 7.8 2.0
q33a_p... Irritability 10.5 14.4
q35. Able to do same job when 60 58.2 68.8
q34a_d. Absent for health problems in previous year 22.9 32.9
q34b_ef. Average days health-related absence in previous year 4.6 6.6
Work and family life    
q18. Working hours fit family/social commitments well or very well 79.4 87.8
q19. Contacted about work outside normal working hours 22.1 33.7
ef4c. Caring for and educating your children every day for an hour or more 28.8 36.5
ef4d. Cooking and housework 46.4 57.0
Job satisfaction    
q36. Satisfied or very satisfied with working conditions 82.3 93.4
q37a_ef. I might lose my job in the next 6 months 13.7 7.2
q37b_ef. I am well paid for the work I do 43.2 53.9
q37c_ef. My job offers good prospects for career advancement 31.0 39.1
Structure of workforce    
q2d_ef. Seniority (mean years) 9.7 7.9
Working time    
q8a_ef. Mean usual weekly working hours 38.6 36.0
q8b. % usually working five days per week 65.1 75.2
q9a. % with more than one job 6.2 15.0
q13_ef. Daily commuting time (return, in minutes) 41.6 40.9
q14e_ef. Long working days 16.9 14.5
q16a_a. Work same number of hours each day 58.4 34.2
q16a_b. Work same number of days each week 74.0 70.2
q16a_c. Work fixed starting and finishing times 60.7 56.1
q16a_d. Work shifts 17.3 9.3
q17a. % with less flexible schedules 65.3 49.3

Page last updated: 28 June, 2007
About this document
  • ID: DK0612039Q
  • Author: Rune Holm Christiansen and Helle Ourø Nielsen
  • Institution: Oxford Research
  • Country: Denmark
  • Language: EN
  • Publication date: 29-06-2007
  • Subject: Quality of work indicators