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Working conditions

Working conditions refer to the conditions in and under which work is performed. A working condition is a characteristic or a combination of characteristics of work that can be modified and improved. Current conceptions of working conditions incorporate considerations of wider factors, which may affect the employee psychosomatically. Thus, a broader definition of the term includes the economic dimension of work and effects on living conditions. Working conditions are a subject of labour law and are regulated by all of its various sources: legislation, collective agreements, works rules, the employment contract, as well as custom and practice.
 

Topic

Recent updates

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Working life in Georgia

Eurofound and the European Training Foundation have developed the first working life country profile for Georgia, which is an EU candidate country. The profile is intended to provide an overview...

Article

Key messages

  • Over the past 20 years, there has been upward convergence in six of seven selected dimensions of working conditions, in terms of poorer-performing Member States catching up with better-performing ones. There was downward convergence in the dimension on ‘prospects’ (job security and career advancement).
  • Job quality supports well-being and a positive experience of working life through engagement, financial security, the development of skills and competences, health and well-being, the reconciliation of work and private life, and the sustainability of work.
  • Women and men report systematic differences in their working conditions. Gender differences in labour market participation, gender roles and occupational segregation are crucial to understanding the pattern of differences in working conditions.
  • Reducing excessive demands on workers and limiting their exposure to risks can improve job quality. This is complemented by increasing access to work resources that help in achieving work goals or mitigate the effects of excessive demands.
  • A zero tolerance policy on harassment and violence at work can improve working conditions and job quality, reducing staff turnover and absenteeism.
  • Diversification and fragmentation of the labour market call for more in-depth analysis on changes in employment status, as well as emerging work situations.

Eurofound research

Eurofound monitors the working conditions of employees and self-employed at work. It provides analyses focusing on work situations of interest – such as ICT mobile work and psychosocial risks at work – and addressing specific groups in the labour market. Research on sustainable work looks at the role of work and its conditions in supporting people’s participation in work across their life course in ways that accommodate individual preferences and enable them to experience a good quality of work.

Working conditions survey data

Since its launch in 1990, Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) has provided an overview of working conditions in Europe. The scope of the survey questionnaire has widened substantially since the first edition, aiming to provide a comprehensive picture of the everyday reality of men and women at work. The seventh EWCS takes place in 2020, covering 37 countries.

The EWCS covers a wide range of issues:

  • job quality (physical environment, social environment, skills and discretion, work intensity, working time quality, prospects and earnings) and the risks and resources contributing to these aspects of work, including employment status
  • work determinants and characteristics of work (working with customers, use of technology, where work takes place)
  • workers and enterprise demographics (age, sex, seniority, enterprise size, industry)
  • second jobs and multi-activity work
  • organisational factors that can be validly captured through a workers’ questionnaire (work processes, work pace, pace determinants, employee participation, teamwork, workplace human resource policies and work organisation characteristics, trust, cooperation and organisational rewards)
  • the quality of working life as assessed by workers (work–life balance, health and well-being, skills match, financial security, sustainability of work, absence and presenteeism, and outcomes such as engagement and motivation)

By including these multiple dimensions, the EWCS provides some insight into contemporary challenges in the world of work, for example the blurring of boundaries between working life and private life, the changing nature of work organisation or increased reliance on outsourcing. Further insights can be gained if surveys are regularly updated to integrate emerging risks, such as those related to workers’ privacy and collection of private data at the workplace.

Upward convergence in working conditions

Social convergence has gained an equal footing alongside economic convergence as an EU goal in the wake of the economic crisis. Eurofound research examines convergence in working conditions, looking at whether working conditions have improved over the past two decades in the EU and whether differences between Member States have narrowed. Globalisation and labour market institutions play a role in promoting convergence in working conditions.

  • Analysis of how working conditions differ across sectors to provide evidence on working conditions and their implications for sustainable work
  • Links between forms of work organisation and employee engagement and development of workers' knowledge and skills
  • Flagship report on working conditions and sustainable work (including findings from ‘Differences in working conditions between various groups of workers – analysing trends over time’)
  • Highlights of recent developments of selected features of working life in so-called topical updates, with one featuring statutory minimum wages

Key outputs

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This publication consists of individual country reports on working life during 2021 for 28 countries – the 27 EU Member States and Norway. The country reports summarise evidence on the...

19 maj 2022
Publication
Other
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Despite the well-known adverse effects of regular long working hours on workers’ health, well-being and performance, many workers in the EU continue to work beyond their normal hours. Part of...

10 marts 2022
Publication
Research report

EU context

European countries have a strong commitment towards improving working conditions. While much attention has focused on working conditions that have a negative impact on health and safety and well-being, conditions supportive of ‘good work’ and high job quality are also gaining in importance.

Working conditions and job quality are high on the European policy agenda. The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) underlines as significant objectives the ‘promotion of employment, improved living and working conditions … proper social protection, dialogue between management and labour, the development of human resources with a view to lasting employment and the combating of exclusion’. 

EU policy enshrines equal opportunities in the workplace for women and men, limits working hours, sets standards to ensure safety, and promotes investment in skills development. The European Commission and Member States have set up different processes to monitor progress and developments in relation to working conditions.  

On 17 November 2017, the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission formally proclaimed the European Pillar of Social Rights. One of the main principles of the pillar is to achieve fair working conditions. This covers secure and adaptable employment, wages, employment conditions and protection in case of dismissals, social dialogue and involvement of workers, work–life balance, as well as a healthy, safe and well-adapted work environment and data protection. 

Adopted in June 2019, and as a direct follow up to the Pillar, the new Directive 2019/1152 on transparent and predictable working conditions sets out new minimum rights for all workers and new rules on the provision of information to workers about their working conditions.  

Eurofound’s work on working conditions links in with the Commission’s 2019–2024 priority on a stronger Europe in the world. 

 

Eurofound expert(s)

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Agnès Parent-Thirion is a senior research manager in the Working Life unit at Eurofound, tasked with the planning, development and implementation of working conditions research...

Senior research manager,
Working life research unit
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Eleonora Peruffo is a research officer in the Social Policies unit at Eurofound. She works on topics related to upward convergence and social cohesion in Europe. During 2021–2022...

Research officer,
Social policies research unit
Publications results (546)

Ensuring greater social protection for self-employed people has been the subject of much policy debate in recent years. In 2019, the Council of the European Union adopted a recommendation on access to social protection for workers and the self-employed. Sudden reductions in income during the COVID-1

30 January 2024

This report explores EU Member States’ legislation around the right to disconnect and assesses the impact of company policies in this area on employees’ hours of connection, working time, work–life balance, health and well-being, and overall workplace satisfaction.

30 November 2023

This report examines the average weekly working hours across Europe in 2021 and 2022. It covers important developments resulting from legislative reforms in collective bargaining at national or sectoral level, drawing on debates about the reduction of working time and the four-day working week.

24 October 2023

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a diverse collection of workers ensured the functioning of our societies. In a time of crisis, they maintained access to healthcare, long-term care and other essential goods and services, including food, water, electricity, the internet and waste treatment.

10 October 2023

Automation and digitisation technologies, including artificial intelligence, are rapidly evolving and becoming increasingly powerful and pervasive. The full range of their effects in the workplace is yet to be seen. It is, however, important not only to explore the ethical implications of digital te

12 September 2023

This publication comprises individual country reports on developments in working life in each of the 27 EU Member States and Norway in 2022, based on national research and survey results. The topics covered include the policy responses of governments to inflation and how inflation has featured in

05 May 2023

Covid-19-pandemien havde forskellige konsekvenser for sociale grupper, afhængigt af hvilke ugunstige omstændigheder der gjorde sig gældende. Der var bred enighed om, at pandemien udløste en stigning i uligheder på tværs af forskellige områder af tilværelsen. Ved hjælp af indikatorer fra EU's

24 January 2023

Denne rapport præsenterer Eurofounds forskning i telearbejde under covid-19-pandemien i 2020 og 2021. Den redegør for ændringer i udbredelsen af telearbejde, arbejdsvilkår for arbejdstagere, der arbejder hjemmefra, og ændringer af bestemmelser omkring denne arbejdsordning. Resultaterne viser en

08 December 2022

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01 December 2022

Online resources results (1663)

Working life in Georgia

Eurofound and the European Training Foundation have developed the first working life country profile for Georgia, which is an EU candidate country. The profile is intended to provide an overview of Georgia’s key socioeconomic characteristics and regulations to serve as a background for its work t

Presentation by Ricardo Rodriguez Contreras, Research Manager, Eurofound. 2-3 October 2023, EMCO meeting hosted by the Spanish Presidency, Madrid.

9 oktober 2023

In this episode of Eurofound Talks, Eurofound Head of Unit for Working Life Barbara Gerstenberger discusses what the EWCTS reveals about job quality, the implications of poor-quality jobs on well-being and broader society, and what policymakers can do to improve the working lives of people in Europe

8 februar 2023

The rise in cost of living and energy poverty: Social impact and policy responses. 14 October 2022, Informal Meeting of Employment and Social Affairs Ministers (EPSCO). Presentation by Ivailo Kalfin, Executive Director, Eurofound.

14 oktober 2022
Female teleworker taking notes during video conference on her laptop

Workers want to telework but long working hours, isolation and inadequate equipment must be tackled

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a surge in telework, with dramatic increases in the number of employees working from home (teleworking) in many European countries. What for many employees started out as a mandatory move seems to have transformed into a preference among the majority for part-time or

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Minimum wages in 2021: Most countries settle for cautious increase

​​​​​​​Despite the unusually tough economic and labour market conditions, most EU Member States made nominal and real increases to their minimum wages in 2020. This is what a first overview of recent minimum wage developments reveals. Some countries lived up to earlier promises or pre-agreements

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Summer time arrangements in the EU: A tripartite outlook on ‘Cloxit’

On 31 March 2019, clocks across the EU will go forward one hour, a Union-wide event since 2002. However, the European Commission has proposed abolishing the bi-annual hour change, an idea favoured by the vast majority of respondents in a public consultation. This article discusses reactions by


Blogs results (35)
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The European Commission declared 2023 as the European Year of Skills, stating ‘Helping people get the right skills for quality jobs and helping companies, in particular small and medium enterprises, address skills shortages in the EU is what this year is all about.’

27 marts 2023
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Women and frontline workers are most exposed to the risks of adverse social behaviour at work, such as burnout, exhaustion, anxiety and depression. This is according to the European Working Conditions Telephone Survey 2021 (EWCTS). In this data story, we dive into EWCTS data (EU27) to examine the pr

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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live and work. With the lifting of restrictions across the globe, we are now able to examine the many repercussions on the world of work. In particular, the unique demands of the last few years have shone a harsh spotlight on the pressures brought to bear

17 januar 2023
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The platform economy is one of those moving targets, which, despite receiving increasing media and policy attention, has proven difficult to regulate. Given the heterogeneity of employment relationships, business models, types of platform work and cross-border issues, this is not surprising. Yet, in

27 september 2022
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As we leave behind the lockdowns and business disruptions of COVID-19 and enter a ‘new normal’, it is time to talk about how workplaces might be transformed to drive innovation. Some may baulk at this suggestion, as we continue to grapple with the pandemic fallout, but crises have always been a crad

28 juni 2021
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The pandemic has had differential impacts on women. Raised consciousness about them must be applied to advance gender equality in recovery measures. All crises have a strongly gendered impact and none more so than the current pandemic, across a range of indicators. While the virus itself seems to ta

28 april 2021
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Standard employment is not simply being replaced by non-standard work; employment is becoming more diverse, and policy must accordingly become more tailored. The last decade has seen much public and policy debate on the future of work. Standard employment – permanent, full-time and subject to labour

15 december 2020
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​​​​​​​With remote working becoming the new normal for many workers, it is surely the case that many employers are anxious to ensure that their employees are putting in full working days. Companies are likely to be investing in and deploying digital technologies for tracking employee performance muc

9 december 2020
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As Europe faces into what appears to be a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, concern is mounting about the evolution and dramatic impact of the disease, with rising numbers of infections, hospitalisations and deaths. There is also a growing focus on the repercussions for the economy, the labour m

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Upcoming publications results (1)

This publication comprises individual country reports on developments in working life in each of the 27 EU Member States and Norway in 2023, based on national research and survey results. The topics covered include the political context in 2023; updates on the social partners and social dialogue ins

July 2024
Data results (1)
24 oktober 2023
Reference period:

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