EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Eurofound News January 2009

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Spotlight on technology in the workplace

It is the working conditions associated with technology in the workplace, rather than the technology itself, that pose risks to worker’s health and well-being. And those workers who use machinery (almost a quarter of all European workers) have less favourable working conditions than computer users or those in workplaces without any technology: such workers run a greater risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders and work-related stress symptoms.

These are some of the findings from a new report from Eurofound, Use of technology and working conditions in the European Union. The report examines the relationship between the use of technology, working conditions, and the health and well-being of workers. It also finds that machinery is used more in workplaces in southern and eastern Europe, while computer technology is more widespread in western and Scandinavian countries.

Worker autonomy counters stress

The research broke the use of technology in the workplace down into four different categories: machinery, computers, a combination of both machinery and computers, and no technology at all. While machine users were at greatest risk, it was found that granting both workers and teams greater autonomy increased the level of learning opportunities and lowered the risk of developing stress symptoms, and hence appeared to counter the negative effects of machine use. In contrast with users of machinery, computer users enjoy better working conditions and greater job satisfaction.

Trends across time

The findings show to what extent the use of computers has increased across the 27 countries of the Union since 1995 and how overall there are fewer workers working in workplaces without any technology or computers than in 1995. This trend is not, however, uniform across the EU: technological development in 2005 appeared to be at an earlier stage in eastern Europe than in the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands.

Examining working conditions across Europe

The report is based on research findings from Eurofound’s fourth European Working Conditions Survey. The survey questioned around 30,000 workers in 31 countries on such issues as work organisation, working time, equal opportunities, training, health and safety and job satisfaction. Following the publication of the main overview report, a series of thematic reports based on secondary analysis of the data provided more in-depth examinations of key themes from the survey. Besides the theme of technology, other reports have looked at the working conditions of older workers and those of women workers, work organisation and employment security and employability. Forthcoming reports will look at:

  • working time and work intensity
  • convergence and divergence in Europe
  • sectoral perspectives on working conditions.

Read the full report

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