EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Work organisation

Work organisation: How work is planned, organised and managed – via production processes, job design, task allocation, rules, procedures, communication, responsibilities, management and supervisory styles, work scheduling, work pace, career development, decision-making processes, interpersonal and interdepartmental relationships.

Jump to: Forms of work organisation, Workplace innovation, Employee involvement, Employee participation in work organisation

Work organisation underpins economic and business development and has important consequences for productivity, innovation and working conditions.

Promoting certain forms of work organisation may contribute to attaining the objectives set by the Europe 2020 strategy and in the European Commission’s ‘New skills for new jobs’ initiative. These objectives aim to move Europe towards a knowledge-based economy, centred on a skilled workforce and innovation – not only in products and processes, but also in the organisation of work and quality of work standards.

Eurofound research finds that some types of work organisation are associated with a better quality of work and employment. Therefore, developing or introducing different forms of work organisation are of particular interest because of the expected effect on productivity, efficiency and competitiveness of companies, as well as on workers’ working conditions.

Ongoing research by Eurofound, based on EurWORK, the European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) and the European Company Survey (ECS), monitors developments in work organisation, particularly in relation to the topics outlined below.

Forms of work organisation

There is considerable diversity in the forms of work organisation throughout Europe. In its research, Eurofound has examined four main types: discretionary learning, lean production, Taylorist, and traditional or simple structure. This research shows that these forms of work organisation have an impact on certain dimensions of quality of work and employment, such as physical risk factors, working time, intensity of work and satisfaction with working conditions. The need to develop systems of work organisation to foster employee motivation and well-being is becoming increasingly important in work-related policymaking.

Read: Working anytime, anywhere: The effects on the world of work

New information and communications technologies have revolutionised work and life in the 21st century. The constant connectivity enabled by these devices allows work to be performed at any time and from almost anywhere. This joint report by the ILO and Eurofound synthesises the findings of national studies from 15 countries, plus the European Working Conditions Survey, to consider the effects of telework and ICT-mobile work (T/ICTM) on the world of work. The report shows that this work arrangement is growing in most countries. Positive effects of T/ICTM usually include a shortening of commuting time, greater working time autonomy, better overall work–life balance, and higher productivity.

Read also the folllowing article: Addressing digital and technological change through social dialogue (2017)

Read: Third European Company Survey – Overview report: Workplace practices – Patterns, performance and well-being

The 3rd ECS captured workplace practices in terms of work organisation, human resource management, direct participation and social dialogue. The report examines how these practices relate to each other and to the outcomes for companies and workers. Overall, it finds that establishments that used joint employee-management decision-making on daily tasks, have a moderately  structured internal organisation, make a limited investment in human resource management but have extensive practices for direct participation score best both in terms of establishment performance and workplace well-being.

Read: Recent developments in work organisation in the EU27 Member States and Norway (Comparative Analytical Report - 2012)

Read: Working conditions in the European Union: Work organisation (2009)

The quality of the working lives of European citizens is strongly dependent upon the forms of work organisation within which they operate. This report examines the four main types of work organisation that exist in Europe, outlines the characteristics that distinguish them, and looks at their prevalence in terms of sector, occupation, company size and from a cross country perspective. The analysis is based on findings from the fourth European Working Conditions Survey carried out across 31 countries, including the 27 EU Member States.

Workplace innovation

Workplace innovation is, according the European Commission, a generic term that includes ‘innovations in the way enterprises are structured, the way they manage their human resources, the way internal decision-making and innovation processes are devised, the way relationships with clients and suppliers are organised, or the way the work environment and the internal support systems are designed’. Findings from Eurofound research on the topic suggest that the presence of social dialogue and the involvement of worker representatives make a valuable contribution to the implementation of workplace innovation.

Read: Win–win arrangements: Innovative measures through social dialogue at company level
Well-functioning social dialogue is a key component for the successful design and implementation of reforms needed to increase the competitiveness of Europe’s economies and create more jobs. It balances workers’ and employers’ interests and contributes to both economic competitiveness and social cohesion. The link between social dialogue and productivity and competitiveness has been the subject of much research, particularly since the advent of the economic crisis in 2008.


Read: Third European Company Survey – Workplace innovation in European companies

This report examines the motives behind the adoption of workplace innovation (WPI) and describes its implementation across companies in Europe. It analyses the impacts of WPI from the perspective of the different players – organisation, management, employees and employee representatives – in 51 companies across 10 EU Member States. The analysis reveals that while there is significant variation in the types of WPI practices in companies, the process of why and how these practices are implemented shows considerable similarity. 

Read: Work organisation and innovation

Innovations in work organisation have the potential to optimise production processes in companies and improve employees’ overall experience of work. This report explores the links between innovations in work organisation – under the broader label of high performance work practices (HPWPs) – and the potential benefits for both employees and organisations. It draws on empirical evidence from case studies carried out in 13 EU Member States where workplace innovations have resulted in positive outcomes.

Employee involvement

Employee involvement refers to the opportunities for employees to take part in decisions that affect their work. At present, relatively little is known about the prevalence of employee involvement and the factors that encourage it. The extent to which employee involvement leads to mutual benefits for the employee and employer is also controversial. A report drawing on data from Eurofound’s fifth EWCS investigated these issues and found evidence that greater involvement was associated with stronger employee commitment to the job and to the organisation.

Read: Work organisation and employee involvement in Europe

This report explores the opportunities open to employees in workplaces across Europe to participate in decision-making, either in the context of their job or in relation to wider organisational issues affecting their work. Employee involvement is a key component of work organisation, relating to other dimensions such as physical working conditions and work intensity. Two dimensions of employee involvement are covered: task discretion – or the influence that employees can exercise over their immediate work tasks – and organisational participation – or the influence that employees have over work organisation.

Employee participation in work organisation

The concept of participation refers to mechanisms for involving employees in management decision-making. It can be practised directly between employees and managers without an intermediary – for instance, by means of staff meetings, ad-hoc groups, suggestion schemes and internal communication tools. It can also be indirect, taking place through employee representation.

Eurofound’s research in the area has examined the extent of direct employee participation and its role in the modernisation of work organisation. Eurofound has also explored the topic of financial participation by employees, through profit-sharing and share-ownership schemes. Indirect participation through workplace social dialogue has been another topic of study, specifically the factors that influence the path social dialogue takes in a company, in particular regarding works councils and trade unions. The Agency has also closely followed developments related to European Works Councils.

Read : Employee involvement and participation at work: Recent research and policy developments revisited (2016)

Read: Workplace social dialogue in Europe: An analysis of the European Company Survey 2009

Employee representation at establishment level in Europe