Recent developments in work organisation in the EU27 Member States and Norway

  • National Contribution:

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Work organisation,
  • Working conditions,
  • Date of Publication: 28 kesäkuu 2012



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This report examines recent developments in work organisation in the EU27 Member States and Norway. Work organisation broadly refers to issues such as the structure of the production process, the relationship between staff and production departments, the responsibilities at different hierarchical levels and the design of individual jobs. Modern patterns of work organisation can be a double-edged sword for employees in terms of working conditions. The factors contributing to workers’ job satisfaction such as high levels of autonomy and involvement, increased responsibilities and task complexity are the same as those that can create strain through increased levels of stress and work pressure, workload, job insecurity or a poor work–life balance. The direct participation arrangements of employees are relatively well-spread, although this has not necessarily implied a higher degree of autonomy and control or a reduction in hierarchical and control structures within enterprises.

The study was compiled on the basis of individual national reports submitted by the EWCO correspondents. The text of each of these national reports is available below. The reports have not been edited or approved by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The national reports were drawn up in response to a questionnaire and should be read in conjunction with it.

Download the report (pdf, 247kb)

See also the executive summary


Introduction

Work organisation is a broad concept that refers to the choices made within organisations regarding different issues such as the structure of the production process, the relationship between staff and production departments, the responsibilities at different hierarchical levels and the design of individual jobs. Work organisation is a key element underpinning economic and business development, with important consequences for productivity, innovation, working conditions and, ultimately, to social cohesion and inclusion.

The fostering of certain forms of work organisation may have important and positive consequences for achieving the EU 2020 Strategy and the European Commission's New Skills for New Jobs strategy, especially the objectives related to moving Europe towards a ‘knowledge-intensive economy’ centred on an skilled workforce and greater employee-involvement and greater innovation – not only in products and processes, but also in the organisation of work and good quality of work standards.

Therefore it is crucial to identify and understand the effect of work organisation patterns on European working conditions. One of the models most often used to study this relationship is the job–control–demands model (Karasek, 1979). This is because it considers that workers’ control over their work absorbs part of the impact of stress and can enhance their job satisfaction through opportunities to engage in challenging tasks and learn new skills.

A 2009 Eurofound study on work organisation looked at ways in which different types of work organisation (such as physical risk factors, work-related health and safety risks and working time) affect quality of work. The study report concluded that some types of work organisation are associated with a better quality of work and employment. The study also found that developments of new forms of work organisation are of particular interest because of the expected effect on the productivity, efficiency and competitiveness of companies, as well as the likely impact on working conditions.

Report objectives

The main objectives of this report are to:

  • identify national literature and surveys that deal with the issue of work organisation, particularly in enterprises and at workplaces;
  • show the role that social partners play in supporting work organisation changes, as well as their stance in relation to work organisational issues;
  • describe existing patterns of work organisation at EU and national level, and recent changes in these patterns.

The last objective takes into account:

  • work organisation patterns associated with high-performance working environments/enterprises;
  • main drivers and barriers to change underpinning these recent developments in work organisation, particularly the effects derived from the current economic crisis;
  • links between existing work organisation issues (and, if possible, their evolution) and consequences for employees’ working conditions.

This report draws primarily on contributions from the network of national correspondents of the European Working Conditions Observatory (EWCO) covering the EU Member States and Norway. Although these national contributions contain very detailed information, this report does not repeat their content but rather provides an overview and synthesis.

Although this report focuses on information covering the past five years, dated information regarded as interesting has also used. When information is available, gender-related considerations are brought into the discussion.


European and national sources of information

This section describes the main sources of information at EU and national levels that monitor and analyse the issue of work organisation.

Most of the information on work organisation issues derives from EWCO survey data reports. The main source of information is the European Working Conditions Surveys (EWCS), which. provides regular and detailed data for each EU Member State (plus other European countries) on issues such as:

  • satisfaction at work;
  • occupational health and safety;
  • working time;
  • wages and payment systems;
  • access to training;
  • work intensity;
  • monotonous and repetitive operations at work;
  • job rotation;
  • presence of teamwork;
  • autonomy at work.

The 2005 EWCS data have been analysed through secondary analysis of various aspects.

There are also a number of European and national sources of information that deal specifically, or in great detail, with work organisation issues.

  • The WORKS project is an integrated project covering 13 Member States funded under the sixth Research Framework Programme of the European Union (FP6). The WORKS project, which ran from June 2005 to May 2009, was led and managed by the Belgian Higher Institute for Labour Studies (HIVA) in collaboration with 16 European expert research partners. It set out to improve the understanding of changes in work in a knowledge-based society, the cause of these changes and their implications for the use of knowledge and skills, flexibility and the quality of life. In particular, the project analysed new forms of work organisation taking account of global value chain restructurings and regional institutional contexts.
  • The Community Innovation Surveys (CIS) provided information on innovation activities in European enterprises, with particular attention given to organisational innovation issues and the main reasons underpinning these innovations.
  • The Eurostat Labour Force Survey (LFS) 2004 ad hoc module on work organisation and working time arrangements provides some information on working time arrangements, part-time work, shift work and overtime, as well as working unsocial hours.
  • The WORK-IN-NET Coordination Action, also supported by the sixth Framework Programme, is intended to foster the collection, analysis and spreading of information on national and regional work-related innovations, thus paving the way for such joint, transnational initiatives as benchmark exercises, transfer seminars and a joint programme.

In addition, some EU Member States have developed national surveys that focus on work-organisation issues (Table 1).

Table 1: Examples of national work organisation-related surveys

Country

Name

Goal

Methodology/ organisation

Frequency

Austria

Arbeitsklima (Work Climate Index)

Identify changes in the working environment and in attitudes.

Methodology: face-to-face interviews with 900 employees. The questionnaire covers 26 subjects, including working time regulations, size of company and satisfaction with company benefits.

Organisation: a common product of the Upper Austrian Chamber of Labour (AK), Institute for Empirical Social Studies (IFES) and Institute for Social Research and Analysis (SORA).

Carried out since June 1997. Results are published every quarter. Two bi-annual recalculations are published in May and November, and two special evaluations on particular aspects are published in February and September.

Belgium (Flanders)

Technologie, Orhanisatie, Arbeid (TOA survey)

Gather establishment-level data on major trends in key elements of technological innovation and new forms of work.

Methodology: large-scale telephone-based survey among human resources managers developed by the STV-Innovation and Work. Since 2004 the survey has covered a representative sample of all companies and organisations (private and public) with more than one employee in the region. In 2007, 2,200 managers were surveyed.

Has been carried out in 1998, 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2010.

Czech Republic

Measuring the Quality of Working Life (MQWL) Survey Eurofound report

Includes a wide range of questions on work organisation (teamwork practices, level of autonomy, distribution of work).

Methodology: survey carried out among a sample of 2,007 employees aged 15–69.

Organisation: funded by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MoLSA).

The survey was carried out in 2004 and 2008.

Denmark

Danish Innovation System (DISKO)

Survey report (292Kb PDF)

Analyse organisational and technological changes in Danish companies.

Methodology: survey of a representative sample of Danish private enterprises. DISKO4 covers responses from 1,770 private enterprises with more than 20 employees.

Organisation: conducted by Statistics Denmark on behalf of four research groups at Aalborg University – Innovation, Knowledge and Economic Dynamics (IKE), Centre for Labour Market Research (CARMA), Centre for Industrial Production (CIP) and the Centre for Comparative Welfare Studies (CCWS).

The survey was carried out between 1996 and 2006. The latest published version is DISKO4, conducted in 2006 and covering 2003–2005.

France

Changements organisationnels et informatisation (COI)

Evaluate the impact of changes in the organisation and the use of information technology on work organisation, qualification, training and working conditions.

Methodology: survey is carried out among a representative sample of French salaried people and their enterprises.

Carried out in 1997 and 2006.

France

Relations professionnelles et négociations d’entreprise (Enquête REPONSE)

Analyse the links between policies for managing human resources, modes of work organisation, strategies and economic performance of companies around the theme of social relations.

Methodology: the fourth edition of the survey will be conducted among a sample of 4,000 establishments in the private sector. The survey is aimed at management representatives, employee representatives and employees.

Has taken place every six years since 1993. The fourth edition (2010–2011) is scheduled for January to June 2011.

Germany

The IAB Establishment Panel

Analyse the status of and developments in technology and organisation, as well as their effects on jobs, and organisational determinants of productivity.

Methodology: an annual employer survey of the same establishments in Germany. Establishments in all branches and of all sizes with least one employee covered by social security are surveyed. Almost 16,000 employers are surveyed each year.

Repeated every year since 1993 in western Germany and the whole of Germany in 1996.

Germany

German Manufacturing Survey

Analyse the application of technological and organisational innovations and the resulting improvements in performance in production and technology-oriented companies.

Methodology: survey covers a representative sample of 1,500 manufacturing companies with more than 20 employees.

Organisation: conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI).

Conducted every 2–3 years since 1993; latest data correspond to 2009.

Ireland

2009 National Workplace Surveys

Capture the perspectives and experiences of employees and employers on different issues such as levels of organisational/ workplace innovation and support, and openness to innovation in workplaces.

Methodology: consists of an employee and an employer survey carried out among a representative sample of employers and employees in the private and public sectors.

Organisation: published by the National Centre for Partnership and Performance (NCPP).

Carried out in 2003 and 2009.

UK

Workplace Employment Relations Survey (WERS)

Analyse issues related to how workplaces are managed and organised, as well as the adoption of high involvement management practices.

Methodology: WERS collects data from employers, employee representatives and employees in a representative sample of workplaces.

Organisation: co-sponsored by a number of institutions, including the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS).

Carried out five times (1980, 1984, 1990, 1998 and 2004). The fieldwork for the next survey is planned for 2011.

Source: National contributions (TN1102013S)

The current report also makes use of findings from the many ad hoc studies dealing with work organisation issues at national level. Where appropriate, links to the original studies are made.

A number of innovative projects are being developed to upgrade data on work organisational issues. A good example is the Meadow Project, funded by the Sixth Framework Programme. The project’s objectives were to:

  • develop guidelines for collecting and interpreting harmonised data at the European level on organisational change and its economic and social impact;
  • make it easier to compare data from surveys on organisational change and work restructuring in Europe;
  • provide norms for the construction of new survey instruments in the field.

Other innovations include:

  • the inclusion of new modules on work organisation and high-performance organisation practices in the 2010 Netherlands Employer Work Survey (in Dutch);
  • a Danish research project called ‘Impact of globalisation and organisational change on mental health’ which aims to analyse associations between transformation pressures, organisational change and mental health.


Existing patterns of work organisation

This section analyses existing patterns of work organisation and their recent evolution, both at EU and at national level, as well as the main causes of these changes. It also identifies work organisation patterns associated with high performance working environments/enterprises.

Forms of work organisation in the EU

There is a significant lack of information on work organisation patterns at EU level. One exception is the 2009 Eurofound report on work organisation, which is based on data from EWCS 2005. This report distinguishes four main types of work organisation:

  • discretionary learning;
  • lean production;
  • Taylorist;
  • traditional or simple structure.

Each form of work organisation is characterised by a number of traits.

The Eurofound report suggests that modern or advanced forms of work are associated with discretionary learning and lean production patterns. These forms are characterised by high levels of autonomy in work and decentralised structures, high involvement and responsibility of employees, task complexity and job rotation, quality management or high presence of (autonomous) teamwork. In comparison, the Taylorist and traditional forms of work organisation are characterised by bureaucratic features, low autonomy in work, along with scant training, simple tasks or a high presence of informal and non-codified working methods.

The report also shows that each form of work organisation is linked to particular sectors, company sizes and countries. For instance, discretionary learning practices are over-represented in the Scandinavian countries and in the Netherlands, as well as in larger enterprises and in some sectors such as financial intermediation or business services. Nevertheless, each organisational form is present (although in different proportions) in every country, sector and company size.

In addition to the 2009 Eurofound report, there are a few national studies of national enterprises that are trying to find the most efficient work organisation. They therefore tend to cluster the types of work organisations.

To begin with, Finnish research differentiates work organisation patterns into two main groups, namely ‘proactive/anticipating’ and ‘traditional’ organisations. Proactive or anticipating organisations and workplaces can be defined as those where ordinary employees are given many opportunities to have influence and take responsibility. These organisations are therefore characterised by more employee autonomy. In contrast, and in traditional organisations, clear hierarchies are used (Antila, 2006). As mentioned in the 2009 Eurofound report, both pro-active and traditional organisations are present – although in different proportions – in all branches and sizes of the Finnish economy.

Meanwhile, empirical Dutch research from the 2009 Netherlands Working Conditions Survey (NEA), which is based on Karasek’s job–demands–control model, differentiates four main categories of jobs:

  • passive jobs: characterised by low demands and low external control;
  • relaxed jobs: combining low demands with high external control;
  • active jobs: high demand and high external control;
  • high-strain jobs: combining high demands with low external control.
  • to the available data, the four job groups are relatively equally distributed among the Dutch workforce, ranging from 28.0% for high-strain jobs to 23.4% for relaxed jobs.

A 2005 report on organisational profiles in the manufacturing industry (in Spanish, 4.2Mb PDF), which was based on a representative sample of Spanish manufacturing enterprises, identified five main organisational profiles. The so-called traditional and innovative companies provided two opposite profiles. The traditional companies constituted 26.4% of the Spanish manufacturing enterprises; their work organisation systems were based on job specialisation and hierarchical structures, as well as frequent use of short-term contracts to deal with fluctuations in demand and lack of investment in new technologies. In contrast, some of the innovative companies were characterised by:

  • great efforts to incorporate advanced technology;
  • complex quality management practices;
  • horizontal/flat hierarchical structures;
  • high participation, learning and teamwork practices among employees.

These enterprises represented 25.8% of all Spanish manufacturers. Between these two extreme groups, there were three other groups – technology-oriented, quality-oriented and process-management-oriented. These groups had a mix of the characteristics of the traditional and innovative companies and represented 47.8% of total manufacturing enterprises. Enterprises belonging to different sectors were present in each group, though some groups showed a higher presence of companies from specific economic activities (such as the knowledge-intensive pharmaceutical and aerospace sectors in the innovative group).

Issues related to work organisation

The features of modern or advanced forms of work include:

  • the presence of participatory practices (work teams, quality circles);
  • high levels of autonomy and decentralisation of decision-making;
  • high involvement and responsibility of employees;
  • complex tasks;
  • fewer hierarchical levels.

One of the key variables related to new forms of work organisation is workers’ involvement (for example, teamwork, their ability to influence decisions, and consultation between managers and workers). Data from EWCS 2010 show that these participatory practices are widespread (Table 2). Approximately 73.7% of EU27 employees work in a group or team that has common tasks and can plan its work. This percentage is slightly higher in industry and is prevalent among manual workers and low-skilled workers. Meanwhile, 65.5% of EU27 workers report that they can ‘sometimes/always’ influence important decisions while 66.1% report they are consulted ‘sometimes/often’ before work targets are set. In both cases, this opportunity for ‘influence/being consulted’ is lowest among low-skilled and manual workers, with large differences between Member States (the highest percentages here in both cases were reported by the Scandinavian countries).

Table 2: Teamwork and worker involvement in Europe, 2010
 

EU27

Type of occupation (EU27)

High-skilled clerical

Low-skilled clerical

High-skilled manual

Low-skilled manual

% of workers involved in a group or team that has common tasks and can plan its work

73.7

68.1

74.7

75.0

78.4

% of workers with a high/some level of team autonomy (*)

58.0

63.1

58.8

58.4

47.8

%of workers who can influence sometimes/always decisions important for their work

65.5

87.8

62.8

63.4

45.0

% of workers who are consulted sometimes/often before work targets are set up

66.1

81.0

65.7

64.0

52.0

% of workers who are able to choose or change their methods of work

67.3

84.7

64.9

65.1

52.4

% of workers who have the ability to influence their working time arrangements

40.8

58.4

38.6

37.0

26.9

% of workers who argue that their work involves complex tasks

57.7

75.8

54.6

62.8

36.7

Notes: (*) Data correspond to index based on a number of related questions (q57a and q57b). High: teams deciding on both division of tasks and head of team; Medium: teams deciding on either division of tasks or head of team; Low: teams deciding on neither division of tasks nor head of team). Results relate only to workers involved in teamwork.

Source: EWCS 2010

National information provided by EWCO correspondents complement these results. Approximately half of Flemish enterprises (43.7% in 2007) can be defined as team-organised, in the sense that at least half of the employees are working in a team (Delagrange and Hellings, 2009). Results from the Irish NCPP National Employee Survey 2009 suggest that 45% of employees indicate that direct participation practices (such as teamwork, problem-solving groups, project groups, quality circles and continuous improvement groups) are present at their workplaces and 36% say that they are personally involved in such practices. A report from the Institute for Labour Studies (in Dutch, 489Kb PDF) states that teamwork and quality circles are present in almost two-thirds and a quarter of Dutch organisations, respectively. In fact, in 42% of the organisations, (almost) all employees participate in teams.

The Irish NCPP National Employee Survey 2009 also shows that direct participation arrangements (as well as personal involvement) increases with company size, as well as with the job skill content, being more present in professionals and technical occupations – though participatory and teamwork practices seem to be present in all sectors. Direct participation arrangements appear to be particularly present in some tertiary sectors such as education or health care in Belgium (De Prins and Henderickx, 2004), the Netherlands (2009 report from the Institute for Labour Studies (in Dutch, 489Kb PDF)) and Finland (2009 report from Statistics Finland (4.84Mb PDF)). The Irish NCPP National Employee Survey 2009 also shows that public sector workers are much more likely to report the presence of direct participation in their workplaces (53%) than private sector workers (42%).

There is very little information on trends for participatory practices. Nevertheless, results from the TOA survey (in Dutch) show that the percentage of Belgian workers involved in suggestion systems or group meetings increased between 2001 and 2007.

However, this relatively high presence of direct participation practices does not imply a higher degree of autonomy and control over work-related issues among employees. Evidence from EWCS 2010 shows that approximately only four out of ten EU workers is able to influence their working time arrangements or to have a say in the choice of their working partner. For the workers involved in teamwork, the percentage of those with some or high team autonomy is 58%.

Relatively similar results can be identified in national research. For example, whereas up to 90.4% and 85.3% of Flemish work teams in Belgium can autonomously decide their division of tasks and work methods, respectively, only 30.1% of the team members themselves are able to appoint their team leader (Table 3). This suggests that teams usually remains very much controlled by the enterprise (Delarue et al, 2004).

Table 3: Responsibilities of teams in team-organised enterprises in Flanders
Responsibility ‘yes’ 2001 2007
Holiday arrangements

32.3%

55.4%

Work methods

54.5%

85.3%

Training

31.7%

60.8%

Division of tasks

57.8%

90.4%

Maintenance (excluding cleaning)

45.5%

47.6%

Quality control

37.4%

69.2%

Appointment of the team leader

30.1%

Source: TOA survey, Belgium

A report published in 2007 (in German, 3.36Mb PDF) by the Office of Technology Assessment at the Bundestag (TAB) found that around two-thirds of manufacturing companies in Germany had introduced teamwork, but only a fifth of all industrial companies had implemented autonomous teamwork. Teams also have limited access to budgets and responsibilities (ISI, 2010), so a strict labour division between planning and operating functions prevails within German enterprises.

Research based on the British Skills Survey Series carried out by the ESRC Centre on Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance (SKOPE) shows that, in 2006, 59% of British employees worked in teams (SKOPE Research Paper 84 (97Kb PDF)). However, employees working in self-directed teams, which can influence work effort, choice of tasks, methods and quality standards, only represented one quarter of those working in teams. British research based on WERS 2004 (365Kb PDF) also shows that teams could jointly decide how work was done in 61% of workplaces with teamworking, whereas teams were allowed to appoint their own leader in only 6% of workplaces.

Evidence from Belgium suggests that the responsibilities granted to the team members are on the increase, with teams now more regarded as an integral part of the organisation (Delagrange and Hellings, 2009). Also, in Ireland, direct participation by employees in how work is carried out has been growing. In a 2003 survey, 34.2 % of Irish workers reported that their autonomy in decision-making had increased in the previous two years. By 2009 48% of Irish workers said their autonomy had grown (NCPP National Employee Survey 2009).

Turning to job autonomy and control issues, research also shows that these elements are strongly influenced by the characteristics of companies and workers. Data from EWCS 2010 show that highly skilled and clerical workers have greater levels of autonomy, whereas the opposite is true for low-skilled and manual workers. This result is confirmed by Belgian research (De Prins and Henderickx, 2004), which shows that blue-collar workers experience considerably less task variation and job autonomy than middle/higher professionals. German research also confirms a considerable segmentation of the workforce on job control/autonomy-related variables according to the workers’ skill levels; for instance, trust-based working hours are still seen as a privilege accorded to highly skilled employees (BIBB, 2010). British research published in 2004 suggests that work systems requiring relatively high levels of autonomy are more likely to be found in sectors exposed to international competition, where organisations compete on the basis of high-specification goods and services and high added-value, and where innovation and creativity are at a premium (SKOPE Research Paper 50 (495Kb PDF)). In a Eurofound report on the quality of life in the Czech Republic published in 2005, it is argued that greater autonomy of workers is more present in foreign-owned and in smaller enterprises. Confirmation that this autonomy of teamworkers is particularly present among knowledge intensive organisations and job positions (executives, senior managers) where there is a lot of complex work comes from Belgian (Delarue et al, 2004), German (Hauser et al, 2010) and Lithuanian (Alonderiene, 2009) research.

National research also illustrates the fact that the presence of considerable direct participation practice does not necessarily imply a reduction in hierarchical and control structures. The Eurofound report on the quality of life in the Czech Republic found that top–down lines of communication dominate. Although almost 70% of respondents stated that they could turn to their supervisor at any time and almost 60% agreed with the statement that their supervisor supported open communication, only 38.5% admitted that differences of opinion were welcome, with 37.1% agreeing that managers understood employees’ problems.

A study from Psychonomics (in German, 1.08Mb PDF) shows that hierarchical structures are predominant in German enterprises such that, on average, top management positions are held by only 3% of employees and 10% of the staff work at a medium or lower management level Subordinates in Lithuanian companies seem to be particularly critical about the rewarding powers of supervisors, often seen as too discretionary and with limited room for discussion (Staniuliene, 2008). In Belgium, the TOA survey (in Dutch) shows that between 2001 and 2007 more companies were developing implicit control mechanisms (for example, performance-related pay and variable pay systems). A study from the Technische Universität, Dortmund (in German, 1.05Mb PDF) suggests that these mechanisms result in additional top–down control over workers’ jobs.

As far as task complexity issues are concerned, In EWCS 2010, 57.7% of workers said their work involved complex tasks. The occurrence of complex tasks is more frequent among skilled and clerical workers, and less so among the low-skilled and manual workers. Austrian research shows that the share of employees who are confronted with complex tasks rose by eight percentage points between 2005 and 2010 (Eichmann et al, 2010).

To conclude, existing work organisation patterns are present in all sectors and company sizes, though they are over-represented in some. Employees’ direct participation arrangements (teamwork, consultation practices) are relatively widespread, although more prevalent in larger enterprises, in some sectors (such as education and health care) and Nordic countries. Although the presence of these practices has increased recently, it does not necessarily imply a higher degree of autonomy and control over work-related issues among employees, or a reduction in hierarchical and control structures within enterprises. Highly skilled professionals and technical workers seem to be the ones benefiting most from higher levels of autonomy and participation at work.


Main drivers of change in work organisation

Available data show that a relatively large percentage of enterprises are trying to introduce work organisational changes. According to the results of the Community Innovation Survey (CIS 2008), up to 31.0% of the enterprises in the EU27 introduced such changes in 2006–2008, with large enterprises leading the field compared with medium and small enterprises (56.6% in comparison to 41.3% and 27.7%, respectively). These changes included:

  • new business practices;
  • new methods of organising work responsibilities;
  • new methods of decision making;
  • new methods of organising external relations.

These pan-European results are confirmed by research at national level.

In Denmark, a 2008 study by the University of Southern Denmark shows that 47 % of companies surveyed (including municipalities and companies from the construction, manufacturing and trade sectors) have implemented the concept of lean working, with a higher presence of teamwork, job-rotation, good quality management, autonomy and involvement of the employees.

According to a 2009 report from CEPS/INSTEAD (in French, 1.06Mb PDF), 53% of companies in Luxembourg say they have introduced new structures and/or management methods. The most common ones correspond to new professional practices (management of the production chain, rationalisation of production) and new organisational methods in the workplace (teamwork, decentralisation) – used by 36% of companies in both cases.

The NCPP National Employee Survey 2009 found that 57% of Irish employees said they were working in an organisation that had, in the past five years, introduced new ideas, processes or behaviours designed to promote improvements in the way the work is carried out, whereas 28% of Norwegian workers reported having experienced organisational changes that had affected their work during 2006–2009 (data from Statistics Norway).

Cyprus: Changes in work organisation patterns in the food and drink industry

Cypriot research shows that, in the past few years, the major enterprises in the Cypriot food and drink industry have made changes in work organisational patterns with the aim of increasing the staff contribution to teamworking, and greater freedom for to staff to define and execute their duties. In their efforts to become more competitive, the companies have focused on how much interaction between departments and processes is encouraged and facilitated (staff movement between different departments, teamwork, effective management, flexibility, etc). These changes are considered to have increased satisfaction and reduced turnover among employees, as well as leading to lower accident rates and lower exposure to work-associated risks.

Source: Efstathiades et al, 2007, 2008

A PhD thesis on the measurement of innovation activity in Hungarian companies (161Kb PDF) suggests that one of the main reasons behind changes in work organisation systems (or models) relates to the need for enterprises to enhance competitiveness, quality and cost-effectiveness in order to cope with increasing competition from third countries and the outsourcing wave. In this context, productivity gains would no longer be obtained through intensification of repetitive tasks and heavy automation, but rather through work organisation patterns that guarantee quality, flexibility and innovation to react quickly to changing market requirements and to exploit new market niches. A comparative analysis of organisation surveys in Europe (428Kb PDF) published in 2007 also shows that the mobilisation of the intelligence and competence of a polyvalent, flexible and motivated workforce is a key element of this strategy (see also Hellings and Delagrange, 2008).

The need to remain competitive explains the shift towards work systems that are able to respond better and quicker to the needs of customers and suppliers. Delarue et al (2004) argue that teamwork can be a good way of dealing with the diversity and unpredictability of customers’ wishes and behaviour in the production/service process of those organisations with intensive client contacts.

The other key impetus for organisational change is innovation in general and the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in particular. Based on the CIS survey results, organisations that introduce new or improved products to the marketplace are twice as likely to engage in organisational change than organisations that do not; this is the case for each country for which data are available. Indeed, a Eurostat report from 2004 on innovation in Europe (2.82Mb PDF) indicates that the complexity of the innovation process is such that the introduction of new products or the implementation of new processes is likely to lead to organisational change and vice versa. More and more workers are increasingly depending on ICT to do their work, which is influencing the way production is organised within and between companies. Ramioul (2006) suggests that ICT can be labelled as an organisational technology because of its integrative nature and its impact on knowledge and communication structures within and beyond organisational boundaries (see French example on the retail sector).

France: Technological innovations in retail sector

A survey conducted by the French national confederation of trade unions, Force Ouvrière (FO), among a sample of 100 large retail companies found that three technological innovations are widely used in French retail: self-service check outs, electronic labelling and ICT-based supply chains. Although this has led to a reduction in staff number, the number of jobs involving repetitive and monotonous tasks has decreased as more of these duties are performed automatically. Nevertheless, employees are under increased stress because they have to cope with new technology and have limited control over their actions (malfunctions are usually dealt with by external experts). The use of IT also leads to a higher degree of centralisation of certain tasks (such as new product orders) that can be easily conducted at a higher level. This, in turn, leaves fewer responsibilities and hence a less challenging role for highly skilled management staff in the shops, while low-skilled staff are required to obtain more service-oriented and IT skills.

Source: Les nouvelles technologies dans le commerce (172Kb PDF), FO, 2010

Referring specifically to the New Member States (NMS), one of the main drivers underpinning recent work organisational changes among national enterprises in the late 1990s and the 2000s was the inclusion of these countries and their enterprises in global value chains and the opening of their national markets to foreign multinational companies with new organisational and management cultures and practices (compared with their traditional national practices). Research for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (in Bulgarian) found that nearly 70% of the multinational subsidiaries established in Bulgaria have made changes in their work organisation practices. These changes seek to increase work efficiency and labour productivity, as well as improving the quality of production. Examples include the introduction of teamwork practices, increased rotation of jobs, schemes for collecting employee suggestions on different issues and the development of employees’ skills.

Some of the NMS such as Bulgaria, Malta and Slovakia highlight the importance of the introduction of new EU labour regulations for fostering changes in enterprises’ work organisation patterns. This is particularly true in terms of more flexible working time arrangements or more flexibility in labour relations (see, for instance the National Reform Programme of the Slovak Republic 2006-2008 (595Kb PDF)).

There is some evidence that the current economic and financial crisis has fostered changes in companies’ work organisation patterns in order to make them more flexible. Hungarian research on work organisation patterns (in Hungarian, 326 Kb PDF), based on case studies in 2009, describes how the crisis has led to these changes, especially in working time. Examples include more flexible working time arrangements or increased use of overtime to compensate for a reduced workforce (see the example of Flexikontos in the Slovak automotive industry). However, in Germany, the search for substantial internal flexibility has resulted in an expansion of capacity-oriented working time, on-call work and overtime practices (2010 EWCO study ‘20 years of working conditions’, unpublished)). In some countries, the availability of special support measures (such as subsidised part-time, short time and partial unemployment schemes, often coupled with training initiatives) has also helped to introduce even more scope for flexibility for enterprises (for a complete review of enterprises and public authorities’ responses to the crisis, see the result of the ARENAS project carried out within the EU27 Member States).

Slovakia: Crisis-induced work organisation changes

Flexikonto is regarded as an effective measure for maintaining employment during sluggish demand periods. It is a working time ‘bank’ and was brought in when Slovak car factories were forced to shorten their working hours and to limit production because of a slump in sales caused by the economic crisis. Flexikonto means that the employer, with agreement from employees’ representatives, can give workers time off on basic pay. The employee is expected to make this up later when production resumes by working unpaid (unless the contracting parties agree upon different conditions). Flexikonto was brought in despite not being defined by the country’s labour legislation, but the Slovak Labour Code has now been reformed for a fixed period (from 1 March 2009 to 31 December 2012) to take this new practice into account.

Source: Slovak national contribution (see TN1102013S)

In a survey (in Danish, 274 Kb PDF) by the Danish Association of Managerial and Executive Staff (LH), the majority of respondents believed the economic crisis had brought more technological and organisational innovations because it had forced the companies to think in new directions. A 2010 KPMG report on the Spanish real estate sector (in Spanish, 924 Kb PDF) found that the negative effects of the economic crisis requires enterprises to have a higher level of professionalism, new strategies based on product differentiation and innovative value-added products and services. A Hungarian study on the impact of the crisis (in Hungarian, 325Kb PDF)Hungarian study found that it had led to changes affecting the scope of employees’ activities, resulting in an enlargement of their activities and workloads, as well as a higher preference among enterprises for multifunctional and experienced employees in contrast to more specialised employees (especially in larger enterprises).

Barriers to change

It should not be forgotten that there are a number of obstacles that hinder work organisation innovations. This can be seen from a 2005 report on organisational profiles in the Spanish manufacturing industry (in Spanish, 4.2Mb PDF)) and from a 2009 evidence report on high performance by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES). The most commonly quoted is workers’ reluctance to change. Others include lack of resources for financing and investing in organisational redesign – especially among small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Other important obstacles can arise from:

  • management board limitations (lack of capability and skills on the part of managers, ignorance of the benefits of the new models, persistence of a traditional ‘command and control’ culture among managers);
  • competition structure (too many companies competing on the basis of low value-added strategies, involving relatively low skill, effort-intensive forms of work organisation);
  • outside pressures (such as those from financial markets to maximise short-term shareholder returns which can make implementing long-term change difficult and which may encourage management to view labour as a cost to be minimised).

A 2006 paper from two Lithuanian researchers (70Kb PDF) suggests that implementation of Total Quality Management (TQM) tools often fail because top managers do not provide adequate leadership and are not committed to sharing their TQM knowledge with their employees. In the UK, the 2009 evidence report from UKCES stressed that institutional environments, characterised by weak trade unions and lightly regulated labour markets, also hinder work organisational changes.


High-performance work practices

In the last few years, researchers in some countries have paid special attention to identifying work organisation elements associated with high performance enterprises. The belief is that adoption of these patterns can substantially boost value creation, labour productivity and workplace innovation.

Four studies on this issue were identified in the literature:

Despite the different definitions used by these studies, high performance organisations generally have the following elements:

  • decentralisation of hierarchies;
  • delegation of responsibilities to employees;
  • presence of (autonomous) teamwork/group work practices;
  • job enrichment and training;
  • performance management and remuneration;
  • employee communication and participation/consultation practices;
  • employer–employee partnerships;
  • workforce diversity and equality strategies;
  • flexible working arrangements.

The UK report identifies 16 ‘management practices’ linked to high performance working, including:

  • availability of training plans and training needs’ assessment;
  • presence of teamwork;
  • availability of performance-related pay and flexible benefits systems;
  • consultation with employees and trade unions.

The Irish research distinguishes four components of high-performance work systems:

  • strategic human resources (HR) management;
  • workplace partnership;
  • diversity and equality systems;
  • flexible working systems

In addition, the Irish research found that work organisation, management policies and management practices linked to high-performance work systems are strongly positively correlated with bottom-line business performance such as financial profit. The study also showed that productivity and other gains are at their highest level when all four components are employed in a cohesive and synergised manner (the ‘multi-dimensional model’) rather than the selective use of one or other of the components (Table 4). This line of reasoning is also suggested by other authors (Nielsen, 2003 and the WORKS project’s comparative analysis of organisation surveys in Europe (428Kb PDF)), who argue that the simultaneous application of several organisational practices increase effectiveness beyond that which individual practices achieve in isolation. The Irish research finds that a comprehensive form of work organisation (including the four components listed above) can generate, in comparison to standard work organisation practices, a 14.8% productivity rise, a 12.2% boost to innovation and a reduction of 7.7% in employee turnover (see also IE0802029I ).

Table 4: Effect of HPWS and business performance in Ireland
Labour productivity

The four components together account for 14.8% variance in labour productivity. Total economic value equates to €44,399 per employee, or almost €12 million in a median-sized company with 270 employees.

Workforce innovation

Four components together account for 12.2% variance in workforce innovation, measured by a company’s ability to generate revenue efficiently through the introduction of new products and services. Total economic value equates to €2,061 per employee, or €556,200 in a median-sized company with 270 employees..

Employee turnover

Four components together account for 7.7% variance in employee turnover. Total economic value equates to retention of up to two additional employees in a median-sized company with 270 employees.

HPWS = high performance working systems

Source: Equality Authority 2008 report

According to the Italian research results, enterprises that favour employees’ involvement and consultation show a higher innovation propensity, not only in terms of technological but also in organisational terms (Antonioli et al, 2010).

Notwithstanding these positive elements, some authors (Lloyd and Payne, 2006; Hughes, 2008) warn against taking a simplistic view of the impact of some work organisation elements on the economic results of enterprises. A good example of this is given by the work of a British researcher (Devaro, 2006), who identifies empirically the effect of team production on financial performance in a large cross-section of organisations. According to this, the median organisation out of a large cross-section enjoys a considerable increase in the probability of higher financial performance through the use of team production, although there are some organisations where the presence of teams can have a detrimental effect on financial performance. In the same way, research on network and integrated production organisational models in Spanish industrial companies (in Spanish, 473Kb PDF) suggests that the implementation of a specific organisation model does not guarantee the success of an enterprise as this is also dependant on many other circumstances, including the environment in which the enterprise operates.

Moreover, optimistic views should be moderated as the importance of the phenomenon remains quite low. The empirical research on high performance working in a UKCES 2009 report shows only 30% of British employers are using these high-performance work patterns, adopting ten or more practices from a possible 16. In addition, research commissioned by SKOPE (495Kb PDF) found that take-up appears to vary by sector, company size and product market strategy, although these practices seem to be more prevalent in enterprises and sectors facing intense international competition.

The WZB research (in German, 431Kb PDF), based on IAB Establishment Panel data from 1995 to 2004, shows that the introduction of high-performance work organisation practices was strongest in the 1990s, continuing more slowly in the early 2000s. Information from the UK WERS (365Kb PDF) also shows that the proportion of workplaces combining ‘teamworking, multi-skilling and problem-solving groups’ has moderately increased over the past few years (latest data for 2004).


Effects of work organisation on working conditions

This section explores the information available in each EU Member State on statistical or survey-based research and reports on the associated effects of new and innovative forms of work organisation on working conditions.

The available research findings identify a number of work organisational items related to job satisfaction and to other aspects such as staff retention or working climate. Eurofound research, based on the national Czech survey ‘Measuring the Quality of Working Life’, identifies six factors of work organisation with a positive influence on the job quality and its performance:

  • sufficient workers to handle the workload;
  • clear definitions of the work to be performed;
  • sufficient time allowed to perform the assignment well;
  • provision of adequate information;
  • access to necessary equipment and facilities;
  • an overall working environment that does not obstruct work performance, including good communication between workers and management .

The four forms of work organisation identified by the Eurofound study on work organisation can be grouped into ‘modern’ and ‘more traditional’ forms. Generally speaking, the so-called ‘modern’ ones (‘discretionary learning’ and ‘lean production’) have better quality standards of work and employment than the more ‘traditional’ forms. The available national literature provides some interesting information relating working conditions and new forms of work organisation, often identified as innovative organisations. In this respect, high involvement and participation, along with high cognitive demand seems to be correlated to job satisfaction and a company’s success.

The Irish NCPP National Employee Survey 2009 shows that those organisations characterised by a high organisational innovation climate (in terms of employees’ high participation, consultation, communication and training levels) are positively associated with increased job satisfaction and autonomy, improved staff retention as well as reduced work–family conflict. A recent Danish research project (in Danish)) carried out among workers in innovative and highly knowledge-intensive jobs found that high levels of autonomy, involvement, responsibility and task complexity positively influence job satisfaction levels, whereas data from the Netherlands Working Conditions Survey shows a positive relationship between work associated cognitive demands and job satisfaction. A 2009 report on how ten Swedish companies organised work for innovation and growth (3.85Mb PDF) concludes that successful companies show a converging/positive relationship between competitiveness and organisational conditions that promote job satisfaction and innovation such as job enrichment, job enlargement, participation, autonomy, and developmental scope (quality of work facilitators). Research on organisational profiles (in Spanish, 4.2Mb PDF) in the Spanish manufacturing industry found that, compared with ‘traditional companies’, ‘innovative companies’ are more likely to have:

  • a ‘suggestion box’ or some kind of system to facilitate worker participation;
  • some kind of performance-related pay incentive;
  • a lower percentage of employees with short-term contracts;
  • fewer hierarchical structures;
  • a much higher number of training hours per year for their employees (Table 5).

As mentioned before, the group of ‘innovative companies’ includes those characterised by great efforts to incorporate advanced technologies, complex quality management practices and horizontal/flat hierarchical structures, and high participation, learning and teamwork practices among employees.

Table 5: Work organisation patterns and company policies in Spain
  Enterprise pattern
Innovative Traditional
Short-term contracts

16.80%

18.90%

Suggestion box

73.30%

41.40%

Education and training*

27.9 hours

21.8 hours

Payment of incentives

16.50%

6.30%

Reduction of hierarchical structures

45.30%

22.40%

Note: *‘Education and training’ refers to the number of training hours provided per worker and per year.

Source: Organisational profiles in the Spanish manufacturing industry (in Spanish, 4.2mb PDF)

The positive relationship between innovative organisations and training is confirmed by research from:

The French review suggests that organisational innovations seem to result in a need for more skills for employees, leading to more persistent and progressive training activities in these organisations compared to the introduction of new technologies/processes. The CREIC research confirms that the introduction of flexible work organisation, training and both technological and organisational innovations results in better working conditions in general for employees. Finally, the TNO research shows that jobs that require a greater variety of skills and cognitive demands (usually those in innovative enterprises) are more related to participation in in-house and external training.

Research also stresses that, under specific circumstances, teamwork can create some favourable effects on working conditions. Thus, the Eurofound research on the quality of life in the Czech Republic shows that job satisfaction is significantly higher in those Czech establishments where self-managed autonomous teamwork is encouraged. Other Eurofound research on teamwork and high performance work organisation found that teamworkers have a greater chance taking part in training paid for by the employer than non-team members. Similarly, a study on the prevention of occupational hazards (in French, 215Kb PDF) by the French Office for Research, Studies and Statistics (DARES) found that the probability of an enterprise providing training and/or information on risk prevention for their employees increases with the existence of working groups within the workplace. Finnish research also suggests that teamwork promotes information sharing, brainstorming, and learning as well as the possibility of spreading work pressures evenly (FI0906019I). Lithuanian research on teamwork in an education organisation (in Lithuanian, 766Kb PDF) shows that teamwork not only increases both individual and collective learning possibilities, but also creates better relationships among employees and consequently a better working climate (Weinhard and Salkauskienė, 2008).

A 2009 study by SKOPE (97Kb PDF) in the UK finds that it is the level of autonomy given to teams is key in terms of employee well-being. Those types of teamwork that involve significant opportunities for self-autonomy and responsibility are associated with:

  • greater opportunities for employees to exercise individual initiative in their jobs;
  • more opportunities and motivation to learn on the job;
  • stronger commitment to the organisation;
  • higher levels of job satisfaction.

This is also demonstrated by the Irish enterprise example below. By way of contrast, non-self-directed teamwork practices are associated with lower job satisfaction.

Ireland: Worker involvement in new practices at Aughinish Alumina

Aughinish Alumina, an alumina refinery in Ireland, recently introduced several partnership practices, notably management–union partnership, semi-autonomous teamwork, training, gain-sharing, annualised hours, improved communication, single status provisions and an employment security clause. Workers responded positively to the new pattern of work organisation which is centred on semi-autonomous teams, with no direct supervision. A small cohort of facilitators now play an indirect role as trouble-shooters and coaches for teams when necessary. The scope of employee involvement in teams ranges from fairly simple issues such as scheduling holidays to more complex issues such as controlling budgets, recruiting new team members, greater control over scheduling, allocation and pace of work. This has gone hand-in-hand with new indirect management controls, including tighter performance targets and some intensification of work effort. Workers appear to have accepted this, because they perceive that management is more competent at organising work. The benefits of this new approach have outweighed the costs both for workers and for employers, especially in terms of higher labour productivity levels as well as lower levels of grievances, conflict, absenteeism and accident rates. It has also generated higher levels of mutual gains consensus, trust, job satisfaction and commitment.

Source: Dobbins and Gunnigle (2009)

Innovative workplaces that favour the presence of good and supportive social relationships also have a positive impact on working conditions. Reports from Germany (study from Psychonomics (in German, 1.08Mb PDF)) and the Netherlands (NEA) show that a good communication culture and high social support from supervisors and colleagues are positively associated with job satisfaction and better self-reported health. In Ireland, the NCPP National Employee Survey 2009 shows that employee consultation over work organisation issues has the strongest positive impact on employee well-being, where high levels of consultation are also associated with reduced work pressure, lower levels of work–family conflict and increased autonomy at work. A DARES report on accidents at work (in French, 206Kb PDF) shows that employees who state that they can discuss issues with their boss and/or colleagues are less likely to be injured at work. Finnish research supports the view that well-being at work is higher in work organisations which conduct surveys on workplace atmosphere and psychosocial interventions, based on participatory planning (Elo et al, 2006). A report from the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation (in Finnish, 2.12Mb PDF) (Tekes) showed that this is also the case in those organisations where employees are allowed to participate in generating and implementing ideas for improvement.

It is also possible to identify from the literature a list of negative influence on working conditions derived from new work organisation; specifically identified are increasing levels of multi-tasking, work intensification, stress and a skill-biased workforce. Research on stress (in Danish, 187 Kb PDF) by the Danish Association of Lawyers and Economists (DJØF) in 2004 – see also the project on lean production without stress (in Danish) by the National Research Centre for the Working Environment (NFA) and the joint project on work and stress (in Danish) by NFA, the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), Aalborg University (AAU) and Copenhagen Business School (CBS) – and results from the Irish NCPP National Employee Survey 2009 show a direct relationship between work organisation practices promoting employee involvement and autonomy (such as project work, teamwork, autonomous groups, problem-solving groups, quality circles) and higher levels of work pressure and stress, as well other additional associated negative effects such as insecurity about job roles and less work-life balance (see also the examples on the Austrian ICT and the UK aerospace sectors).

However, these findings are contradicted by a Belgian study among blue-collar metalworkers, which stresses that working in a team has only a limited impact on workers’ stress levels compared with the determining stress factor of working within the geographical and work place boundaries of an assembly line (Delarue et al, 2009).

Austria and the UK: Ambivalent effects of ‘modern’ forms of work organisation

Along with the positive aspects usually assumed to be connected to ‘modern’ forms of work organisations, negative effects should not be underestimated. Research in the Austrian ICT sector shows enterprises are characterised by advanced organisational patterns, with a high presence of flat hierarchies and (flexible) self-responsible/self-organised teams, usually defined for concrete ad hoc work projects. However, these higher demands on workers often result in more stress and workload, with greater working pressure, long working hours and a high level of frustration.

Aerospace has been cited as a sector where modern forms of work organisation have spread relatively widely. Since the 1980s, the UK aerospace industry has been subject to restructuring as a result of state deregulation, changes in civil and defence markets, and intensifying global competition. Some companies have moved from previously bureaucratic and hierarchical organisational structures to intra-plant business units and introduced lean production techniques, such as cellular teamworking. Investigation of the use of these practices in two UK aerospace companies found limited evidence of positive work quality indicators such as increased task discretion, greater participation in decision-making, enhanced skill levels or higher reward possibilities. However, there was evidence of greater work intensity and higher occupational stress as a result of the introduction of these lean practices.

Source: Danford et al (2004, 2005), Krenn et al (2010)

An intensification of work in recent years, coupled with a reduction of cycle times and task sequences and increased multi-tasking, is reported by a 2010 Estonian study on psychosocial risks (in Estonian) and some German and British research – Centar (2009), the 2010 study from Psychonomics (in German, 1.08Mb PDF), Danford et al (2005) and a 2009 paper on job quality in Britain from UKCES (139Kb PDF).

A Eurofound report on the quality of working life in the Czech Republic suggests that it is precisely the lack of sufficient time to perform work well which is one of the main elements negatively affecting job quality and performance. Italian research on entrepreneurship and innovation (156Kb PDF) shows that, despite the fact that organisational innovation activities seem to positively influence the degree of workers’ autonomy and the amount of information that workers have access to, they also usually result in higher levels of stress at work. Research from the Netherlands Working Conditions Survey confirms that those workers involved in high demand/low control jobs are particularly exposed to emotional exhaustion. The 2007 DARES study on accidents at work (in French, 206Kb PDF) reminds us that working under pressure is also positively linked to a higher probability of suffering an accident or to become bullied at work (Notelaers et al, 2010).

Moreover, there is a gender effect. German research suggests that women report being more affected by performance and time pressures than men (BIBB, 2010). This corroborates other survey results showing that women are more used than men to admit difficulties. Furthermore, trends seem to worsen, as 54% of Irish workers in 2009 reported an increase in job pressure during the previous five years (NCPP National Employee Survey 2009).

German research (Ahlers, 2010) shows that implicit mechanisms of control (such as performance-related pay systems, target output measures and external control-related documentation tasks) often result in higher work pressures and work loads, overlong working hours and less job satisfaction, as well as more conflicts between work and private life, especially if performance pressures are ‘internalised’ as their ‘own ones’ by workers – see also the 2010 study from Psychonomics (in German, 1.08Mb PDF).

Following the same line of reasoning, Eurofound research shows that the increasing presence of individual performance evaluation and bonus systems among Finnish workers is resulting in a growing dissatisfaction with teamwork, as these systems do not support the idea of teamwork (FI0906019I). In Norway, work–family conflict is particularly reported among workers who have the highest levels of flexibility in their working time, especially in comparison to those workers who have a fixed work schedule (Ahlers, 2010), although a Lithuanian study of forms of flexible work organisation (in Lithuanian, 183Kb PDF) found that up to 70% of the Lithuanians would prefer to work under a flexible work schedule if they had such an opportunity.

As to training, several authors suggest that the introduction of innovative organisational changes implies a transformation of the structure of qualifications favourable to qualified employees, resulting in an increase in the relative demand of skilled labour (Bauer and Bender, 2004; Walkowiak, 2006). Thus, new work organisational methods emphasise multi-tasking and co-responsible employees who must have a view on, and knowledge of, the wider process in which they are involved, with an increasing emphasis on initiative, creativity and social competences.

Despite this positive impact, some authors warn about a growing labour market polarisation, with the growth in highly skilled professional and managerial occupations occurring alongside a rapid increase in the number of low-skill, low-quality jobs (Warhurst and Thompson, 2006), which according to a 2007 SKOPE study (1.57Mb PDF), often results in problems of ‘over-qualification’ and, according to the 2005 report on the first findings from WERS 2004 (3.65Mb PDF) on skills not being fully utilised at work (Kersley et al, 2006).

British research finds that the UK labour market has a so-called ‘30/30/40 structure’. This distribution implies that 40% of employees surveyed perform ‘few knowledge tasks’, 27% undertake ‘some knowledge tasks’ and 33% undertake ‘many knowledge tasks’, although within this latter group, only a third combine cognitively complex knowledge work with high-level management tasks (Brinkley et al, 2008).

The economic crisis is having some significantly negative effects on working conditions and work organisation, usually as a result of staff reductions or because of changes to make companies more lean and flexible. The Irish NCPP National Employee Survey 2009, for example, suggests that the crisis has:

  • reduced job satisfaction;
  • increased work pressure/intensity;
  • increased conflict over work–life balance;
  • reduced organisational commitment.

The Irish researchers suggest that these issues are a result of the knock-on effect from staff cuts and increased competition for markets/contracts. Similar signs of more stressful and intense working practices are also identified by Luxembourg trade unions (see national contributions from Luxembourg), whereas the German ‘good work index’ (DGB-Index ‘Gute Arbeit’ 2010 (in German)) indicates a worsening of working conditions due to intensification of work in most of the crisis-hit sectors (such as automotive and shipbuilding). A survey (in Lithuanian) carried out in the second quarter of 2010 by the Lithuanian statistical office (STD) on work–life balance issues shows that workers have fewer opportunities to influence their working time or to choose a more convenient work schedule, because of greater stress among Lithuanian workers and fear of losing their jobs.

‘Modern’ patterns of work organisation can result in both positive and negative effects for employees in terms of working conditions. Thus, the conditions creating job satisfaction for workers (such as high levels of autonomy and involvement, increased responsibilities and task complexity, flexibility and added learning possibilities) are the same conditions creating strains (such as increased level of stress and work pressure, greater workloads, job insecurity and poorer work–life balance). A policy review of high performance working by UKCES concluded that the overall effect depends very much on the context into which practices are introduced and whether they are implemented in ways that take account of employees’ concerns and anxieties. Indeed, high job satisfaction might be also present in traditional, Taylorist-organised enterprises or sectors (see Portuguese example below), illustrating the multi-faceted and built-up aspects of job satisfaction.

Portugal: High job satisfaction in the ‘call centres’ sector

A study of call centres in Portugal based on a questionnaire sent to 115 operators confirms that the predominant work organisational pattern is an advanced Taylorist model known as ‘neo-Taylorism’, resulting from the adaptation of ICT and the introduction of new management processes. Although there is a high level of automation, there is a predominance of tasks with a high degree of routine and little complexity, functions being limited to simple execution, implementation and feedback (reported by 76% of respondents). Thus, the degree of job complexity is low, while the routine is essentially considered as high. This level of routine is associated with the existing low polyvalence. Meanwhile, 46% of the operators argued they can neither rearrange their work nor have autonomy to solve problems, compared with less than 14% who can. Despite these traditional work organisation patterns, job satisfaction among workers is very high; 52% of the respondents said they were fairly satisfied with their work and about 35% mentioned a high or very high degree of satisfaction. Analysis shows that this high job satisfaction is related to several factors, namely flexibility (since operators can work as many hours as they want) and an adequate balance between economic compensation and leisure time.

Source: Santos and Marques (2006)


Social partners’ positions on work organisation changes

This section analyses the positions and views of social partners in the different EU Member States and Norway on the importance of encouraging changes of work organisation in the national economic context.

The economic crisis has prompted social partners (at national, sectoral and workplace level) to reach agreements on flexible working time practices in many European countries. These agreements basically favour partial unemployment and short-time working, often coupled with further training activities in order to keep workers in employment – see Preparing for the upswing: training and qualification during the crisis, published by Eurofound in March 2011.

There are also examples of activities dealing with work organisation carried out by social partners at EU level. A good example refers to the 2008 joint report on the implementation of a work-related stress agreement (889Kb PDF) from the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP), BusinessEurope, the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). The report recognises the negative effects that work organisation-related elements such as ability to change working time arrangements and the degree of autonomy can have on work-related stress levels.

In some EU Member States (especially the NMS), the issue of work organisation as such has not been discussed by social partners during recent collective bargaining. Hungarian research on the contents of collective agreements (in Hungarian) published in 2009 shows that topics related to work organisation principles or rules for new human resources techniques have not become part of collective agreements. This position is also reflected in the Bulgarian, Czech, Lithuanian and Polish national contributions, with the Czech national contribution stresses that the issue of work organisation is regarded as something to be discussed only within individual companies.

This position contrasts with the situation in other EU Member States, where social partners are particularly concerned about the importance of work organisation issues in social dialogue. In some countries such as Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Malta, Sweden and the UK, both sides of industry have stressed the importance of work organisation issues as a way of improving productivity, innovation and working conditions.

Belgian social partners (especially in Flanders), for example, have a long tradition of cooperation on this matter, stressing the importance of linking innovation, new forms of work organisation and higher job quality standards. Examples of this cooperation go back to the 1995 VESOC agreement, the Flemish employment agreement of 1998–2000 and the so-called Pact of Vilvoorde of 2001, which recognised the necessity of innovation in work organisation and personnel policies for strengthening the innovation capability of the Flemish economy. More recent initiatives include the 2005 Recommendation of the Flemish Social and Economic Council (SERV) ‘Towards a strategic innovation policy in Flanders’, or the Flanders Synergy programme (in Flemish), which began in 2006, stressing again the importance of organisational innovations (for more information on this programme, see the section on public support schemes below).

Danish social partners also have a long tradition of negotiations and agreements for encouraging changes in work organisation, not only at the individual enterprise level but also in tripartite negotiations at national aggregated level. Denmark is characterised by a tradition of greater agreements between trade unions and employers organisations on work organisation that ensures job satisfaction among the employees, as this has a knock-on effect on the productivity and effectiveness of enterprises.

An example of such an agreement is the cooperation agreement (Samarbejdsaftalen) signed by the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) and the Confederation of Danish Employers (DA) in June 1986.

Denmark: LO/DA cooperation agreement

This agreement has been revised over the years to adapt to changes in work organisation and working conditions. On its web pages on working environment (in Danish), LO identifies six main elements of significant importance in regards to working conditions and performance: high levels of autonomy in work; high levels of meaningfulness in work; high levels of predictability in work; high levels of social support; both from colleagues and employers; fair reward (this can both include wage, appreciation and learning at work); and suitable demands, in the sense that they should neither be too high or too low.

In Germany, Ireland and Malta, both employers and trade unions believe in the importance of encouraging new forms of work organisation to improve working conditions, company and national competitiveness and performance, as well as to maintain and create further job opportunities (see DE1102019Q, IE1102019Q and MT1102019Q).

In the Netherlands, the Microsoft concept of ‘The new world of work’ is attracting a lot of attention from both employers and employees’ representative organisations. The core of this concept is about ‘working independently from time and place’, which obviously requires new forms of work organisation and management (in terms of more autonomy and trust, less control or an innovative organisational climate). Since 2006, Dutch employers associations and trade unions in the private sector have been cooperating in a platform called the ‘Dutch National Centre for Social Innovation’ (NCSI) to identify tools for working ‘smarter’; there was a shared opinion among social partners that, although productivity growth is necessary for growth of wages, there was little room for working harder (since the work load was already high). Since 2009, the public sector has also become interested in this initiative due to the need to cut costs and the anticipated labour market shortage.

In Sweden, the social partners recognise the value of improvements in work organisations and so most trade unions and employers’ organisations have an official strategy about how to deal with items related to work organisation. Their shared view is that a good work organisation and environment is closely related to productivity and innovation, though of course there are different perspectives among social partners. For example, the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO) stresses the relationship between work organisation and the work environment, together with issues of the fight against discrimination.

In the UK, all the main social partners such as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the Engineering Employers Federation (EEF) and the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) have stressed the importance of introducing new work organisation practices that result in the so-called high performance working practices (CBI/TUC, 2001; CBI, 2002; CIPD/EEF, 2003; TUC, 2002). These practices are seen as having the potential to deliver ‘win–win’ outcomes in terms of national productivity, organisational performance and employee well-being by helping to create an environment in which employees have the opportunity and incentives to apply their skills and capabilities at work. However, and in the case of the UK, it is important to stress that most of these ‘partnership agreements’ have been signed at the workplace level, where it is unclear to what extent these agreements have allowed trade unions to exert influence over work organisation. Bacon and Samuel (2007) examined 126 partnership agreements and found that, while most included statements on ‘trade union commitment to organisational success’ and ‘recognition of the legitimate role for trade unions’, issues around job security, the quality of working life and gain sharing for employees were rarely included.

Social partners in some countries (Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden) are also working together to generate and disseminate knowledge, ideas and good practices on new forms of work organisation and management. For instance, the Belgian STV Innovation and Work Foundation (STV Stichting Innovatie and Arbeid), which was founded in 1984 and is co-managed by the Flemish social partners, carries out research, organises training for the social partners and maintains a website within the framework of ‘technology–organisation–work’, investigating the balance between technological innovation, organisational change and new forms of work. STV has proved useful to the representative organisations of the social partners as an institute to which they can turn for scientifically sound information and advice, as well as to assist their members in meeting the challenges posed by innovation. Also in Belgium, it is worth noting the VIGOR large-scale research project on innovative work behaviour, with the support of employers’ organisations (Flemish Economic Association (VOKA), Union of Independent Entrepreneurs (UNIZO)) and trade unions (Central Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (ACV), Belgian General Federation of Labour (ABVV)).

In Finland, the ‘Energy and well-being’ project (Energia ja hyvinvointi – projekti) is intended to analyse new and smarter ways of work organisation so to promote productivity. It is being carried out by the Development Working Group formed by the Federation of Finnish Technology Industries (Teknologiateollisuus) and the Finnish Metalworkers’ Union (Metalliliitto). The country’s the national productivity centre The round table of productivity (in Finnish) also works actively to promote the quality of working life and well-being with a particular emphasis on work organisation issues. Active participants in this initiative include the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK), the Finnish Confederation of Salaried Employees (STTK), the Confederation of Unions for Professional and Managerial Staff (AKAVA), the Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK) and the Commission for Local Authority Employers (KT).

In the Netherlands, NCSI is an initiative of the Dutch innovation platform in cooperation with:

  • Dutch Employers’ Association (AWVN) and Federation for the Metal and Electrical Industry (FME),
  • FNV Bondgenoten (associated with the Dutch Federation of Trade Unions (FNV) and CNV Bedrijvenbond (affiliated to the Christian Trade Union Federation (CNV);
  • academic institutions – Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), Erasmus University, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam Institute for Work Studies (AIAS), University of Amsterdam;
  • technological research centre TNO.

NCSI’s mission is to spread knowledge, ideas and good practice on social innovation and to stimulate action and research on the topic. NCSI defines social innovation as renewal of work organisation and labour relations with the aim of improving the organisation’s performance (vitality, productivity, quality and innovation), as well as the development of workers’ talents and fun at work.

In Sweden, there are a number of initiatives jointly developed by employer organisations and trade unions to produce new research on how to improve work organisation issues. Good examples include the Produktionslyftet programme (in Swedish), jointly developed by the Association of Swedish Engineering Industries (Teknikföretagen), the Union of Metalworkers (IF Metall) and various Swedish universities, and financed by The Knowledge Foundation (KK-stiftelsen) and the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems (Vinnova).

Also in Sweden, the employer organisation Forum for Service Companies (Almega), together with Vinnova and the Trade Union for Professionals in the Private Sector (Unionen), are investigating how to improve work organisation issues within the service sector. The initiative, called Verksamhetslyftet (in Swedish), is led by the Employment Security Fund (Trygghetsfonden). The fund is a collaboration of an employer organisation, the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKL), and trade unions – the Public Employees’ Negotiation Council (OFR), the Municipal Workers’ Union (Kommunal) and Akademikeralliansen. It aims to provide knowledge and information (courses, study visits, seminars and a network of experiences) for municipalities and county councils wishing to implement lean production.

Contrasting views in relation to work organisation

The emphasis on innovative forms of work organisation is a controversial subject among social partners in many countries. As far as employers’ associations are concerned, innovative work organisation tools are seen as an instrument for modernising their enterprises, resulting in increases in productivity and flexibility levels, greater commitment of employees (CBI, 2002) as well as fewer difficulties for some goals (for example in lay-offs/dismissal as well as in recruitment processes, and more flexible working time arrangements). This position is well expressed by the Spanish Confederation of Employers’ Organisations (CEOE), which, in a 2009 report on ways of regaining competitiveness, growth and employment in Spain (in Spanish, 1.2MB PDF) suggested that employers should have more autonomy in modifying how work is organised on their premises (in terms of higher functional and geographical mobility, working time patterns, retribution systems), so that companies can quickly adapt to external circumstances in order to avoid redundancies as much as possible. In the same vein, the Union of Luxembourg Enterprises (UEL) has issued a report containing 100 proposals (in French, 210Kb PDF) intended to foster flexible working time arrangements and existing hiring/dismissal mechanisms. In the Netherlands, employers’ associations advocate that new forms of work should be accompanied by a change in wage arrangements, arguing there is no room for paid overtime if ‘9–5’ typical working days are becoming more and more rare.

The trade unions, in principle, are in favour of some of these changes of work organisation such as:

  • promoting employees’ participation and involvement in the organisation;
  • encouraging employees to offer suggestions;
  • promoting teamwork.

However, trade unions are often cautious about these new flexible forms of work, feeling that they often lead to a one-sided promotion of flexibility to the advantage of employers, without a corresponding promotion of the job security or well-being of employees. In this respect, elements of concern among trade unions include higher levels of work intensification and increasing pressures to fulfil targets and deadlines (TUC, 2010), often resulting in higher levels of stress.

The issue of work-related stress and its causes became a very important subject for discussion among French social partners after a series of work-related suicides (FR0711039I); see also the example below of Danone. Dutch trade unions fear the damage caused by precarious work on workers’ job security and stability, especially concerning the relaxation of rules which protect workers for dismissals, as well as fewer opportunities to develop competences and skills. In Spain, a report on flexible production systems (in Spanish, 28.5Kb PDF) by the General Workers’ Confederation (UGT) stressed the negative effects of outsourcing and subcontracting practices, because large companies have diminished their workforce as a result of externalisation of activities whereas SMEs (the subcontracted companies) keep a fluctuating number of workers on short-term contracts. The Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO) suggests the importance of deeper cooperation between unions representing the different companies in the production chain as a way of avoiding unwanted outcomes. In Spain the think tank of the Trade Union Confederation of Workers (CCOO), 1st May Foundation, suggests in a 2010 report on labour indicators (in Spanish, 1.03Mb PDF) that the encouragement of participatory tools is used by employers as a way to develop a ‘sense of belonging’ among employees and to keep the workforce on their side, in order to make it easier to adopt changes in the organisation or production systems.

France: The impact of work organisation on employee stress in Danone

A debate on the impact of work organisation on employees’ health has emerged in France, prompted by a series of work-related suicides in some key companies. Against this background, Danone, a multi-national food-product company, negotiated and signed a specific collective agreement in March 2010 with all representative trade union confederations. This agreement sought to identify and deal with those work organisational factors within Danone that lead to increased stress for employees. Among others, the list of identified factors included unclear role allocation, inadequate work methods that reduce the know-how and the autonomy of the worker, lack of decision-making authority and permanent reorganisation.

Source: French national contribution FR1102019Q

German and Luxembourg trade unions fear that intensification of work has increased the risk of mental health problems for workers. In this field, German trade unions are developing a number of initiatives, such as the so-called ‘good work index’ (DGB Index Gute Arbeit). The Luxembourg Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (LCGB) has published proposals (in French, 805Kb PDF) for the strengthening of the role of health and safety representatives and the introduction of mixed health and safety teams made up of employers and employees representatives, as well as stressing the importance of ergonomics in social partner discussions. Luxembourg trade unions in the commerce sector also argue that working time flexibility (such as the late opening of shops on Saturday and Sunday) should be compensated by working time reductions.

Trade unions fear that ‘innovative work organisations’ do not seek to expand the collective participation of employees. For instance, a press release dated 13 September 2010 (in French) issued by the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) emphasises the importance of collective and participatory forms of work organisation, and stresses the role that trade unions should play in the realisation of these aims. UGT in Spain has brought out an action programme (in Spanish, 316Kb PDF) arguing that new human resources policies based on flexibility usually result in the individualisation of the labour relationship, which weakens the role of trade unions and obstructs the joint action in collective bargaining. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, (ICTU) argues that management–employee partnerships (for example, through teamwork practices) in any true sense will replace independent collective representation for workers, as the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) suggests. In the UK, the TUC has voiced concerns about the insufficient attention paid to the importance of collective employee voice and trade unions in the High Performance Working model, despite supporting many of its aspects (TUC, 2010).

Public support schemes to change work organisation issues

In addition to the activities conducted by the social partners, public authorities (often in close collaboration with social partners) are developing a number of initiatives and activities intended to support work organisation innovations within enterprises. A remarkable example of this can be found in the Belgian Flanders Synergy pilot programme, begun in 2006 with the overall aim of supporting progress towards organisational innovations that lead to a better quality of work. This programme, which was funded by the European Social Fund, was jointly developed by the Ministry of Work, Education and Training in cooperation with the social partners and academic experts. In 2009, this pilot project turned into a competence pool financed by the Flemish Institute of Science and Technology. The overall goal was to promote and stimulate innovation in the organisation of work in order to increase productivity and quality of work.

The Cyprus Productivity Centre (KEPA) is promoting a scheme to subsidise enterprises to replace low-productivity jobs with high-productivity ones. The scheme provides grants to enterprises to elaborate, design and implement business plans that will lead to work re-organisations intended to upgrade productivity levels. This scheme is included in the 2007–2009 Action Plan of the 2007–2013 National Productivity Programme and is co-financed by the European Social Fund. In Luxembourg, the Law for the promotion of Research, Development and Innovation, introduced in June 2009, offers financial incentives for those companies introducing organisational innovations. There is, nevertheless, no evidence on the extent of concern about quality of work within the rationale of these schemes.


Conclusions

Work organisation is a complex issue. To begin with, the definition can be challenging. For the purpose of the current study, ‘work organisation’ has been defined as a broad concept referring to choices regarding various issues such as the structure of the production process, the responsibilities at different hierarchical levels and the design of individual jobs, which result in important consequences in relation to productivity, innovation, working conditions and, ultimately, to social cohesion and inclusion.

There is a significant lack of comprehensive information on existing work organisation patterns, both at EU and national level. Some exceptions are presented in the report. All in all, available information shows that both modern and traditional patterns of work organisation are present no matter the country, sector of activity or company size, although in varying shares. Moreover, existing information shows that employees’ direct participation arrangements such as teamwork and consultation practices (seen as characteristic of the new forms of work organisation) are relatively well spread, although they are prevalent in larger enterprises, in sectors such as education and health and care, and in northern countries. The impact of direct participation remains difficult to assess as it does not necessarily imply a higher degree of autonomy and control over work-related aspects among employees, or a reduction in control structures within enterprises. Furthermore, workers’ participation appears to be an attribute of some categories of workers such as highly skilled professionals and technical workers, who seem to be benefiting from higher levels of autonomy and participation at work.

A number of reasons underpinning work organisational changes could explain the relatively large percentage of enterprises trying to introduce these changes. Among them are:

  • the need for enterprises to enhance competitiveness, quality and cost-effectiveness in order to cope with the competitive pressures from rival companies and third countries;
  • the introduction of innovation in general and the use of ICT in particular;
  • the opening of the New Member States’ national economies to foreign countries;
  • the effects of the economic and financial crisis.

However, there are barriers to introducing change, including:

  • workers’ resistance to change;
  • the limitations of management boards in terms of capability and skills;
  • management ignorance of the benefits of the new models, or of the disadvantages of being part of competition structures characterised by too many companies competing on the basis of low-value-added strategies.

The impacts of work organisation patterns on working conditions are particularly complex to assess. The ‘modern’ patterns of work organisation, while creating job satisfaction among workers (high levels of autonomy and involvement, increased responsibilities and task complexity, flexibility, added learning possibilities) can, at the same time, create strain (increased level of stress and work pressure, workloads, job insecurity and poorer work–life balance). The final outcome seems to be very much dependent on the context into which practices are introduced and whether they are implemented in ways that take account of employees’ concerns and anxieties.

Beyond some controversial issues between the social partners, such as increased flexibility as part of modernisation of work organisation, this report shows that, in several EU countries, social partners are cooperating in this area. In general, they understand the importance of encouraging new forms of work in order to:

  • improve working conditions;
  • increase company and national competitiveness and performance;
  • maintain and create job opportunities.


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